by Nick Juliano / The Raw Story / October 21, 2008
Following reports that US troops will be permanently on call to work inside the United States handling “civil unrest,” “crowd control” and other functions traditionally carried out by civilian law enforcement agencies, activists are demanding to know why the Pentagon is reversing a longstanding prohibition on domestic deployment of the military.
The Department of Defense for the first time is assigning a full-time Army unit to be on call with Northern Command, which was created after Sept. 11 to facilitate military cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security in the event of another terrorist attack.
The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding more details on the domestic deployments, which appear to violate the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits use of the military to direct internal affairs of the US. The ACLU warns that without fully knowing the reasoning and justifications behind the Army’s plan, the domestic deployments could be used to expand a militarized surveillance apparatus that already includes the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program and DHS’s plans to turn military spy satellites inside US borders.
“This is a radical departure from separation of civilian law enforcement and military authority, and could, quite possibly, represent a violation of law,” former FBI Agent Mike German, an ACLU national security policy counsel, said in a news release. “Our Founding Fathers understood the threat that a standing army could pose to American liberty. While future generations recognized the need for a strong military to defend against increasingly capable foreign threats, they also passed statutory protections to ensure that the Army could not be turned against the American people. The erosion of these protections should concern every American.”
The ACLU sent a nine page Freedom of Information Act request (pdf) to the Justice Department, Pentagon and DHS for documents related to the decision to deploy an army unit and outlining the unit’s duties.
A report in the Army Times last month first brought the domestic deployment to light. The Army’s 3rd Infantry Division 1st Brigade Combat Team became the first unit assigned permanently to Northern Command.
According to the Army Times report, the Team would be on-call to respond in the event of a natural disaster or terror attack anywhere in the country, or they could be used to “help with civil unrest and crowd control.” But most of their time would be spent training for an expected return to either Iraq or Afghanistan in early 2010.
Some fear the possibility that the unit’s training could serve a dual purpose if the soldiers were deployed domestically, although the Army is attempting to downplay those concerns.
The 1st BCT’s soldiers also will learn how to use “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.
The package is for use only in war-zone operations, not for any domestic purpose.
“It’s a new modular package of nonlethal capabilities that they’re fielding. They’ve been using pieces of it in Iraq, but this is the first time that these modules were consolidated and this package fielded, and because of this mission we’re undertaking we were the first to get it.”
The package includes equipment to stand up a hasty road block; spike strips for slowing, stopping or controlling traffic; shields and batons; and, beanbag bullets.
The ACLU’s request focuses on the deployments as yet another step in a series of what it calls “incremental encroachments” by the military towards operating within the US.
“The military’s deployment within U.S. borders raises critical questions that must be answered,” said Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “What is the unit’s mission? What functions will it perform? And why was it necessary to deploy the unit rather than rely on civilian agencies and personnel and the National Guard? Given the magnitude of the issues at stake, it is imperative that the American people know the truth about this new and unprecedented intrusion of the military in domestic affairs.”