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Posse Comitatus on the Merits


Over e-mail, Glenn has suggested that the origins of posse comitatus in the United States are irrelevant to the wisdom of maintaining the policy today. I only partially agree with that claim. To briefly set aside the question of the origins, and to entirely set aside the question of whether the incident Glenn mentions actually represents an erosion of posse comitatus, it is certainly worthwhile to examine whether or not posse comitatus is a policy worth maintaining. It’s also worthwhile to dispose of this:

Even after the last 8 years, there are still plenty of people — including, apparently, liberals like Farley — who dismissively wave away concerns about presidential seizures of radical, dangerous and possibly illegal powers as nothing to worry about. That mentality bodes well for the McCain/Palin ticket and for authoritarian policies in general, and explains much of what has happened during the Bush era (throngs of people like Farley who mocked objections to Bush’s radical executive power theories as “handwringing”).

Yup…. C’mon, Glenn; just call me Neville Chamberlain. You know you want to.

Anyway, the case against posse comitatus runs something like this; giving the President the capacity to legally use the United States Army within the United States will lead to an increase in the militarization of our society, and an erosion in our civil liberties, the latter created by the increased capacity of the President to use force in the face of civil disobedience. Moreover, while the United States Army has a substantial organizational capacity, its strengths do not lie in crowd control, disaster relief, or other tasks that a President might wish to use it for; even though the Kent State incident didn’t actually involve the US Army, more incidents like Kent State would occur if the Army was regularly used inside the borders of the United States. This is an entirely reasonable case, and one that reasonable people can hold to; if there’s a part of the case that I’m missing, please feel free to indicate in comments, because I don’t want to build and burn a strawman. It’s also fair to say that no small percentage of United States Army officers hold to this position; the Army is not, by any means, seeking a larger internal role. Moreover, while posse comitatus in the United States was born of the effort to destroy Reconstruction, as a policy it certainly shares much with the concerns of the Founders regarding the dangers of standing armies.

So what’s the case against? The first is merely practical; the military is capable of a multitude of tasks associated with disaster relief and crisis preparedness, and is regularly asked to execute the disaster relief role. It would be better, I think, if we simply accepted what everyone already knows (that the military will be asked to participate in disaster relief, as indeed is allowed by the Posse Comitatus Act), instead of regarding the semi-permanent designation of a brigade to handle and prepare for disaster relief as an encroachment on civil liberty. This brigade is not, in fact, the only one stationed in the United States, and is not the only one that would be asked to respond in the case of natural disaster. Moreover, the use of the military in natural disasters isn’t something that started in the Bush administration, but rather has been ongoing for some time.

The case for holding the line on posse comitatus would be more compelling if the theoretical argument made more sense. Civil liberties come under threat not simply from the Federal Government, but also from states, localities, and private actors. Armed force is not inherently hostile to civil liberties; indeed, it can and has enabled people to take advantage of their civil and political rights, such as voting, assembly, and speech. As such, an increase in the ability of the Federal government (through use of the Army) to intervene in domestic situations does not necessarily lead to a loss of freedom. If rights come under threat from private actors, localities, or states, then the intervention of the Federal government can have a net positive effect on the ability of the people to take advantage of their civil rights. Moreover, the Federal government is a good deal more capable of protecting civil liberties than states or localities, because it enjoys far greater resources. Small government entities are no more likely to recognize civil liberties, political freedoms, or minority rights than the Federal government, and potentially could be a good deal likely.

Now, this may all seem terribly abstract; the intervention of the Federal government in a military sense could yield benefits for civil liberties, but is it likely to do so? The possibility of a direct confrontation between the Federal government and a state or local government that would require the use of the Army, or even the threat of the use of the Army, would seem pretty unlikely. This, I think, is where the history becomes relevant. In asking whether posse comitatus results in a net positive or negative for civil liberties, it hardly seems irrelevant to note that the Posse Comitatus Act was part of an explicit bargain to enable the re-establishment of a white supremacist regime across the South. In other words, the point of the act was to insulate states and localities from the threat of Federal force, such that those states and localities could either tolerate white supremacist activites (involving the disenfranchisement and murder of thousands of African-Americans) or directly engage in the support of those white supremacist activities. It’s not as if this behavior stopped in 1952; states and localities bitterly resisted Federal efforts to disassemble the white supremacist regime that held sway over the South after Reconstruction throughout the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement. Moreover, efforts to resist the expansion of civil rights and civil liberties on the part of states and localities continue to this day, albeit through means less direct than those pursued in 1890.

In short, the Federal government might well try to use the Army to threaten civil liberties, but we absolutely, without a doubt know that states and localities will use force and other means to eliminate or reduce civil liberties, and we also know that the desire of states to do this has been a significant source of friction between those states and the Federal government for the last 130 years. This is why the invocations of Kent State, the Minneapolis police, and various other organs of state are rather beside the point in a discussion of posse comitatus; states and localities already possess considerable coercive capacity, and have demonstrated a strong willingness to use that capacity against groups and individuals that they don’t care for. We also know that in the most egregious case of the destruction of civil liberties in US history (the end of Reconstruction and the establishment of Jim Crow), the states perceived the Federal government to be their enemy and sought a specific prohibition on the ability of the Federal government to mess with their business.

This point is not lost on conservatives. There’s a reason that Glenn found it useful to cite Alan Bock, a right-wing libertarian who strongly opposes Federal interference in local affairs. Bock, to put it as simply as possible, doesn’t believe that the Federal government had any business in enforcing respect for civil liberties during Reconstruction, or during any other period of note. It’s not that he’s afraid of what the Federal government might do; he thought it was wrong to use the Army to enable black people to vote in the first place. Similarly, Glenn cites right wing libertarian James Bovard in defense of his case for posse comitatus. These are hardly the only right wingers to share an aversion to Federal power; to the extent that “state’s rights” has any content whatsoever, it has typically included a commitment to the privilege of state’s to restrict the civil liberties of whatever minority groups that find distasteful.

And so yes, it is possible to have a reasoned objection to posse comitatus without necessarily being an appeaser of the Bush administration. Glenn (and some others) think that the Reconstruction story is irrelevant, but it’s not at all difficult for me to envision the need for troops to protect the rights of African-Americans to vote, or of women to have access to abortions. It makes a substantial difference whether those troops belong to (say) the Alabama National Guard, or the US Army; I know that I’d strongly prefer the latter.

See also Yglesias, who touches on some of these points. Chris Quillen had a good article on posse comitatus in the Spring 2002 Parameters, the timing of which should also suggest that this debate was ongoing prior to the Bush administration. Finally, let me again recommend Nicholas Lemann’s Redemption, which is a detailed account of the role that the US Army played in Reconstruction-era Mississippi.

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  • Terry Carney from the other thread:

    Speaking as a Staff Sergeant, US Army: Glenn is both right, and wrong, though I am afraid he is more right than not.
    The claim that being based at Ft. Stewart is the same as the assignment to NORCOM is facile. The training mission for SOCOM, CENTCOM, PACCOM, etc. is to be overseas. The Training Mission for NORCOM is apparently to be inside the US.
    That is a radical departure. Being called up for local emergencies, on an ad hoc humanitarian basis is quite different from being deployed CONUS to suppress riots. If the training were all about recovering bodies, decontaminting hospitals, and the like, I’d not be so concerned.
    But this has more to it. Army Times article tells me that TTP (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) are being developed for crowd control. This administration, has been asserting a right to use the Army in just that way, and while things like Katrina have made use of the logistical abilites of the Army, the Declaration of Independence lists:
    He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
    He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power
    For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
    For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
    I don’t think, as a matter of principle (when the National Guard (of which I am presently a member) is trained in this sort of thing, and has a local interest; and attachement to, the community, which acts as a a moderate check against excess (there is a reason the Russians stationed people no small distance from their homes), this is something one should be sanguine about.
    As a soldier (and I like to think patriot) I think Glenn has more the right of it than not.

    Much of Farley’s argument would be plausible, though not decisive, in some other country or some other era. But I’m getting a “What planet is he from?” feeling. It’s not like the militarization of policing, or encroachments on civil liberties, hasn’t been a constant issue for the last decade or two. And it’s not like the Bush administration hasn’t set the stage for domestic disturbances with what seems to be a planned fiscal and financial crisis.

  • Barry Freed

    Isn’t Little Rock and Eisenhower’s employing the 101st Airborne to enforce Brown vs Board relevant here?

  • kid bitzer

    typo alert:
    “potentially could be a good deal likely”
    i think you want to put the word “less” between “deal” and “likely”.

  • kid bitzer

    this seems to me another case in which it’s important to remember that there is really no interesting connection between libertarianism and federalism.
    it makes a lot of sense to want less governmental control, esp. militarized enforcement of governmental control, over our lives.
    but it is often a total red herring to care about whether the truncheon is being wielded by a member of the state or federal government.
    reducing the power of the federal government does not bring about a libertarian paradise, if the states (and counties and municipalities etc.) are heavy-handed, intrusive, and don’t give a damned about your civil rights. (e.g. if you’re black under jim crow).
    and shifting power from the states to the central govt. does not have to bring about an authoritarian dystopia. if we could dismantle all state and local govts tomorrow, and also reduce the power of the federal govt at the same time, we would be further from federalist devolution of power, but closer to a libertarian outcome.
    if the state is not your friend, then the states are not your friend, either.
    pretending that it’s the federal government in particular that is the thing to be afraid of can just lead us to focus on the wrong things.

  • Jim Lund

    For the case for posse comitatus you need to look not only to the past but also to the present and near future. If the the military is given authority to operate in the US it will need to set up operations to monitor conditions and gather intelligence.
    Practically, that means a permanent surveillance command. From the info that had leaked out many pieces of this are already in operation both directly run by the military and purchased through arrangements with data companies. Removing posse comitatus would ratify and amplify this data collection.
    Under the repeal of posse comitatus, the military would have to develop operational capacity as well. This would mean tents, water trucks, and food supplies. But it would also mean plans to establish and control communications. To take the most benign case, in a disaster or disturbance there would be a need to keep the public’s phone and internet use from clogging up the limited bandwidth available.
    Monitoring communications would be necessary as well. And the operational capacity would likely also including systems to censor, suppress, and shape news to restore and maintain order, the military’s primary mission. Much of this technology is being developed by US companies and sold to foreign states so it is readily available.
    The local and federal efforts to identify and monitor troublemakers–typically those on the political left–would also be an important part of operational capacity and could be modeled after the operations already run for political conventions and large protests.
    Being a military effort it would be free of many of the constrains of law, open government, and oversight that the police and civilian parts of government operate under.
    So mark me on the side of keeping posse comitatus and letting the federal govt use its soft power to guarantee civil rights.

  • Jim Lund

    Let’s not discount the upside of eliminating posse comitatus. The right-wing bedwetters and the black helicopter crowd would piss themselves. Then they would go bury their guns, get crying drunk on cheap whiskey, and forget which county they buried their guns in. Waking up with stupendous hangovers, the sound of the morning traffic report’s news chopper would be amplified in their heads to a cacophony finally driving them completely around the bend.

  • To judge by European and South American experience, the greater threat to liberty is not direct military intervention in civilian affairs but the tolerance of professional soldiers for quasi-military militia groups. The Red Shirts, Brown Shirts, and Black Shirts actually establish the one-party state through intimidation while the generals look the other way in disgust.

  • dms

    So, let me get this straight. And I’m not a history maven.
    The argument seems to be: we are to remember the history of 150 years ago, but ignore the history of the last seven years.
    Got it.

  • va

    I would find this–the premise of the Army as a benevolent force–more persuasive if I hadn’t been reading DMZ all day.

  • seeker6079

    Let’s not forget that posse comitatus came into effect when the Army was pretty much the only means for the sophisticated application of military force. In the modern era that technology is possessed by the SWAT teams of countless federal, state and local agencies. (Some time perusing Radley Balko’s superb work on the militarization of America’s police forces is in order, over at theagitator.com).
    The thorough and often brutal curtailing of civil liberties at the 2008 and 2004 GOP conventions arose from the operations of militarized and morally compromised police forces, not military units.
    I take no position on this posse comitatus debate. I merely point out that part of the argument (that the Army is something unique in its ability to exert domestic violence) is a quaint and quite dead notion in an era when even the Sheriff’s departments in sleepy little towns tanks and assault teams.

  • MacGyver

    “I merely point out that part of the argument (that the Army is something unique in its ability to exert domestic violence) is a quaint and quite dead notion in an era when even the Sheriff’s departments in sleepy little towns [have] tanks and assault teams.”
    Please. Tanks? Really? You want to go with tanks?

  • Specifically speaking to Robert’s mention of “The Minneapolis Police”: The St. Paul Republican Convention was essentially contracted out by local government to the RNC, which had been given 50 million dollars by Congress for security. The policing was done by a federally funded entity with arrest powers which was controlled by a political party, in other words. Besides elements of the local police, large numbers of policeman from other large cities were hired on as temps. (As reported, they did not want Minnesota small town police).
    [My surmise is that the local police were glad to have the job on someone else’s budget and to have some cash coming in to boot, and that the local governmental leaders, both Democrats, were only concerned to avoid a Seattle WTO type demo which would have reduced their sities’ standing in the world that counts for mayors — finance, tourism, etc.]
    The new military unit seems intended as a permanent federal flying squad for such purposes, getting rid of the inefficiencies of this year’s experience. I do not believe that this unit is intended for disaster relief.
    In short, the Federal government might well try to use the Army to threaten civil liberties, but we absolutely, without a doubt know that states and localities will use force and other means to eliminate or reduce civil liberties
    First, as I’ve said, the St Paul convention had been federalized. Second, your formal argument is perfect, as far as I can tell, but in history “That was then, this is now” can be a conclusive argument (subject to later elaboration if possible).
    It’s not quite as bad to argue that this is really about Reconstruction as it would be to argue that habeas corpus at Guantanamo is really about the horrible, brutish barons at at Runnymede (not good guys at all!), but I’d say that it’s easily 130/793 as bad, or roughly a sixth.
    I’m not a localist, a states’ rightser, or a libertarian, but the federal government is the military part, with all the emergency powers and states of exception that war entails, and it has also increasingly overwhelmed local government over the last century, and at the same time the permanent fiscal, foreign policy, and military establishments have overwhelmed democratic governance at every level. I think that it’s reasonable to conclude that the clear and present danger to liberty right now comes from the Feds.

  • To me, the argument that “the local police are being militarized anyway, so we might as well use the national military as a police force” [not a direct quote] is a pretty poor argument, especially because a lot of the militarization of local police is motivated and funded by federal programs. It’s like using one bad thing to excuse a distinct but similar bad thing.

  • brooksfoe

    Personally, I would prefer we pass a law mandating that the United States Armed Forces can only be deployed inside the borders of the United States. But I’m some kind of f*765king Communist I think.

  • phil

    Between Article I section 8 and the Third Amendment, we aren’t even supposed to be keeping standing armies. Let’s not invite them home for tea just yet.

  • John

    If the the military is given authority to operate in the US it will need to set up operations to monitor conditions and gather intelligence.

    I’m fairly certain this does not follow.
    Beyond that, although this was mentioned before and ignored, there’s this. This isn’t something that happened 150 years ago – it happened within living memory. Was Eisenhower’s use of the Army in this case a dangerous step towards the abolition of our civil liberties?
    I’d also be interested to, getting off the question in the abstract, ask about this particular incident that got Greenwald so hot and bothered. Is there anything new about it? Haven’t US Army troops been stationed in the US for disaster relief for a long time now? My basic feeling here is that I don’t really trust Greenwald to present issues like this honestly.

  • Things That Make You Go Hmmmmmm:
    – Glenn’s defense of posse comitatus
    – Glenn’s defense of Ron Paul from his own newsletters
    The argument seems to be: we are to remember the history of 150 years ago, but ignore the history of the last seven years.
    Because we’ll have 150 years of Bushies to follow, right?
    This too, shall pass.

  • OK, it seems to me that it is misdirection to argue that Posse Commitatus is irrelevant because we already utilize the military in disaster relief. The PCA bans the use of “police powers” and while that can include shooting looters, it opens up a whole other range of options too. I think Glenn Greenwald is hyperventilating because that’s his schtick; but his concerns are not 100% silly. And yes, the federal power can be used for good; but it can easily used for bad as well (probably more easily) and which do you think is the natural tendency? Little Rock was a stirring use of the federal power but it only occured because such uses are rare. What if the lack of PCA had allowed the non-integrated Army to take over police powers in, say, the 1920s? Do you think things would have been as hunky-dory?
    This entirely leaves out the other question, which is, shouldn’t the military be focusing on things like finding our enemies and waging war? Does it make sense to make anything else a standing part of their mission? If FEMA is inefficient, then make it efficient, learning lessons from the Army. After all it’s not some magic property of the word “Army” that gives it the discipline, etc. to respond to disasters. It’s training, and funding, and of course tradition — largely it’s because it’s what we, as citizens, demand of our soldiers. If we made a likewise decision that emergency relief is now a standing (and doable) state interest, then we could choose to create a peacetime structure to handle it.
    Using the Army this way is at best a shortcut; it’s lazy and it’s at least potentially dangerous. I agree with Greenwald: there is a qualitive difference between ad-hoc usage and planned usage, even if the ad-hoc becomes almost de facto. The PCA itself is just one more law to be ignore; but the principle it encompasses — even if generated from an evil and cynical motive — is sound.
    “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

  • seeker6079

    MacGyver, thanks for correcting the typo with only a bobby pin and a discarded ventilator L-bend.
    John Emerson:
    Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I wasn’t referring to using one to excuse the other. I was merely pointing out that worrying about one mugger in front might not be wise given the bigger mugger behind.

  • rea

    Article I section 8 and the Third Amendment, we aren’t even supposed to be keeping standing armies.
    That’s a curious reading of Art. I Sec. 8, which explicitly empowers Congress to establish a standing army. All the 3rd Amendment does is prevent the government from lodging soldiers in your home–I don’t think even the Bush Adminstration is proposing that..

  • Glen Tomkins

    The origin really is irrelevant
    I suspect that none of us support the political agenda of the alliance of barons that got King John to sign the Magna Carta. These folks mainly wanted to maintain their right to oppress the lower orders without interference from anyone, not even royal judges enforcing the laws of the realm. The Magna Carta is only valued today because its principles eventually were extended to protecting the rights of those lower orders who were its intended victims.
    So, yes, the Posse Comitatus Act was passed originally as part of the North’s renunciation of the national responsibility to enforce locally unpopular aspects of the Constitution on the local armed forces that that same Constitution also foisted on us (see the 2d Amendment, and Art 4, sec 4).
    But in the many years since, those local armed forces have atrophied as completely as the powers of the English barons. Unlike 1860, or 1876, there simply is no militia today, not in the sense of an organized military force that states have at their disposal to potentiially fight the nation’s armed forces. So, just as the Magna Carta now serves to protect all Englishmen, the PCA now protects us all from the idea that counter-insurgency by the US Army against US cities would ever be an acceptable, legal practice. I think that such protection, incomplete and subject to override by a people panicked in the heat of a momentary crisis, as are all of our rights, sadly, is still better than nothing.
    I think that it’s an unequivocally good thing that a general ordered to do to downtown Detroit what the Army and Marine Corps did to Fallujah, would be able to tell the president, “No sir. That’s an illegal order.” Yes, maybe if I was worried that the militia of South Carolina was some threat to our civil liberties and peace, maybe I would want duly constituted national authorities to be able to order the national army to fight, on the battlefield only (and no, I don’t think that doing to Charleston what we did to Fallujah should count as legitimate war-fighting under any circumstances), this army of South Carolina. But since we are as likely to be threatened by such an army as the good people of England are to be oppressed by the feudal ban of their local barons, I really would like to see the PCA strengthened, not weakened.

  • I was just arguing that the two muggers are allies, especially given the increasing federalization of local policing, and that positing an opposition between them is far-fetched.
    I’ve never been very friendly to libertarians before, and I’m still not friendly to right libertarians, but all my life (since 1965, to be specific) the Democrats have been under control of the militarists, and often enough they’ve been weaselly on civil liberties. At a certain point you have to see that they’re not ineffectively resisting militarization and compromising to much, but rather, that a plurality of Democrats are straight militarists. The military / foreign policy complex embedded itself in government, the university, and the two parties in 1941, and it’s never really been shaken since (maybe a teentsy bit 1968-1975).

  • I believe that I mentioned Neuwert above. In any case, eliminationist / dominionist thinking is a real factor in conservative Christianity and almost openly within the military (“My God is bigger than your God”), and more surreptitiously White Power has its people in the service. So the assumption that American troops would not fire on American civilians strikes me as just wrong.

  • seeker6079

    I was just arguing that the two muggers are allies, especially given the increasing federalization of local policing, and that positing an opposition between them is far-fetched.
    Hmmm… It appears that we have been debating without actually disagreeing.

  • FearItself

    Let’s not forget that many of the tasks this proposed domestic command would perform (emergency management, riot response, etc.) have traditionally been performed by the generally effective and professional forces of the states’ National Guards.
    Setting aside a regular army unit to do these jobs only seems necessary because so much of the Guard is deployed overseas. The availability of a Regular Army force for those domestic tasks would further alleviate the Guard’s need to be ready to perform them–increasing the Guard’s availability for extended overseas combat and peacekeeping (read: imperial) deployments.
    Nothing in that exchange of tasks looks like a good idea to me.

  • taylormattd

    So, let me get this straight. And I’m not a history maven.
    The argument seems to be: we are to remember the history of 150 years ago, but ignore the history of the last seven years.
    Got it.
    dms | 09.26.08 – 2:16 am | #

    dms, is there some reason in particular you think the civil rights movement was 150 years ago?

  • grouchomarxist

    it is possible to have a reasoned objection to posse comitatus without necessarily being an appeaser of the Bush administration
    Wow. It’s not very often that I see a writer whom I normally admire resort to such a blatant straw man.
    The Bush administration ends in four months. The argument here is clearly over whether any administration — Republican or Democratic — should have a military unit dedicated to “controlling” citizens.

  • CWD

    So, if I understand this correctly:
    1. we are in the midst of a national financial crisis
    2. where the president is mashing the panic button
    3. a little over a month before an election that seems likely to remove the right form power and
    4. the Posse Commitatus doctrine has been abandoned
    5. with troops who will recieve training in crowd control techniques scheduled for deployment by Oct 1.
    Is it paranoid to be alarmed? Is it over the top to wonder about the intentions of an administration that has lied to us, shown contempt for the basic founding principles of our nation and engaged in a great many illegal activities targeted at external and internal enemies?
    I hope I’m just paranoid and not right.

  • radish

    Much better argument. Plausible. Not persuasive though, because — as noted a couple of times in these threads — you’re relying on a premise that seems pretty outlandish in light of recent history.
    Which of these seems more likely to happen during the next ten years:
    1. federal troops intervene to defend citizens or their civil rights from local militia and law enforcement
    2. federal troops intervene where local forces either refuse, or are inadequate, or are themselves incapacitated
    Now you are welcome to argue that #2 is a good reason to do this, in the sense that it is a form of emergency preparedness, and emergency preparedness is always good. That’s the plausible part of the argument. You are also (AFAIK) right to point out that the history of the PCA is an ignoble one, though I don’t see how that’s relevant. (Breaking news: dog bites man, and equal protection clause more likely to be invoked to protect corporate civil rights than individual civil rights).
    Other than actually being funded, there is nothing about the military which makes it uniquely capable of carrying out this mission. Not one single thing. There is only the guaranteed funding. There are other chains of command, other training facilities, other agencies, other plans and packages, which have mobile emergency preparedness as their primary purpose, and are organized as such. They would not require ground-up training as EMTs or S&R or firefighters or hazmat responders. Many of them have guns and caltrops and portable barricades and tasers. A few even have tanks and planes (though of course many of those are in Iraq and Afghanistan).
    But from a purely practical, emergency-preparedness POV there is no reason to do it this way instead of enhancing forces, facilities and agencies which already exist for the purpose. None. Unless of course you wanted the chain of command to be different. Or had some other goal that it wasn’t quite polite to talk about in public.

  • phil

    That’s a curious reading of Art. I Sec. 8, which explicitly empowers Congress to establish a standing army.
    For two years at a time, which is something less than “standing”. And by exempting the navy, you know they meant it.

  • Detlef

    Opinion from Germany allowed?
    In your first post you asked “if other major democracies have anything on their books even resembling this prohibition”?
    And I find out that your American prohibitions seem to be far less restrictive than the German ones.
    In peace times it would be unthinkable to train German soldiers for this:
    The 1st BCTs 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.
    Its a new modular package of nonlethal capabilities that theyre fielding. Theyve 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 were 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.
    I was the first guy in the brigade to get Tasered, said Cloutier, describing the experience as your worst muscle cramp ever times 10 throughout your whole body.

    (Army Times article)
    That seems like police work, nothing else. And it shouldnt be the job of the armed forces in my opinion. (Pentagon spying on Quakers comes to mind too.)
    As in police officers are trained a bit differently than soldiers.
    The rest of the article mentions natural disaster help or help after a large terrorist attack involving WMDs. Ive got no problem with that.
    But I dont quite understand why you even need Northcom with active troops under its command?
    Naturally the German army too is stationed in Germany. And in case of a disaster the troops most suited to help will get deployed if needed.
    Depending on the number of soldiers needed the Defense minister will pick an appropriate officer leading the effort.
    Why do you need a whole permanent headquarter command for something like that? With an actual combat unit under its command? Trained in “crowd control”?
    Why do you have that huge building called Pentagon? If a natural disaster happens, they should know which units (and equipment) is available. Deploy them and appoint a temporary commander for the event.
    Im not quite sure but sometimes I think that you look at the military as the only efficient and capable power available in the USA? The only ones able to help you in large scale disasters? Thats not very healthy for a democracy Id think.
    And to think that I used to make fun of some American slogans like “War on Poverty, War on Drugs, War on what-so-ever”. :)

  • Brautigan

    It’s discussions like this that lead to “egghead” “ivory tower” accusations.
    In the face of what has happened over the last 8 years, the only acceptable response to the question of whether we should eliminate posse comitatus is:

  • Brautigan


  • The Blue Flautist

    Mr Farley,
    I think you are setting up a strawman. Yes, it is true that states and local actors can and do routinely violate civil liberties, and this is not the sole province of the military. But this is besides the point. Your theoretical argument regarding the usefulness of the military has utility under very limited circumstances: 1) in case of disasters like Katrina, 2) when there is armed insurrection in parts of the country which cannot be controlled by local actors and 3) when a state refuses to recognize the law or parts of it as it stands in the constitution. None of these conditions presently obtain on a permanent basis in the united states.
    There is a very clear and important reason as to why practically every democracy today disallows the military from functioning internally, except in cases 1-3, and no civilian authority is comfortable allowing the deployment of military forces internally. The military relies on obedience to a chain of command, which in most countries is controlled eventually by the head of the executive branch (here the POTUS). It can and in many cases has been used by such authority as an instrument to suppress and override local actors and state governments; and such deployments usually end in dictatorship of one sort or the other.
    The difference between state and local actors and the military is that they are directly accountable to the local population, and even though they do violate civil liberties, these violations have a political and economic cost associated with them. This is also why when military deployments are made during emergencies, the chain of command often has as its head, the state authorities. A military is accountable to *no one* except the leaders at the top of its command chain. Furthermore, when the military begins to take over civil duties that are properly the ambit of authorities directly accountable to local governments, it is time to start worrying about the implications of this for democracy.
    Regarding the posse comitatus act,it is probably true that it was designed to maintain white supremacist govts (I am not aware of this history), but this does not make it an inherently bad act. This is a case of 3) where state govts at some level refuse to uphold the law, and given the history, I dont know if a military deployment to prevent this would not have caused a repeat of the civil war. Whatever its history, it is clearly irrelevant to the situation today, since such a context no longer applies;there is also no reason to believe that local law enforcement is unable to carry out the duties that the current army brigades deployed have been tasked to do. So the question arises, why this deployment?

  • Karate Bearfighter

    Just to repeat from the other thread, no one is talking about getting rid of, or even changing, the Posse Comitatus Act. Two years ago, the Republican majority in Congress amended the Insurrection Act to allow the use of American military forces in some vaguely defined situations. Those amendments were repealed almost immediately after the Democrats took over Congress. To reiterate, in bullet point form:
    — The changes in the Insurrection Act that Greenwald was upset about were repealed 10 months ago.
    — Stationing of American soldiers inside the United States is not addressed by the Posse Comitatus Act.
    — The Posse Comitatus Act provides criminal penalties for the use of American soldiers for law enforcement functions, except where otherwise provided by Congress.
    — There have been statutes creating exceptions on the books since the passage of the Posse Comitatus Act.

  • “Why do you need a whole permanent headquarter command for something like that? With an actual combat unit under its command? Trained in “crowd control”?
    Why do you have that huge building called Pentagon? If a natural disaster happens, they should know which units (and equipment) is available. Deploy them and appoint a temporary commander for the event.”
    HAHAHHAHAHHAHAAAAAHHHH!!!! (wiping away tears of laughter)… no seriously…
    AHAHHAHHHHAHAAAAHHHAHAHA!! Pentagon knows what to do… stop it, really… you’re killing me…

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