Thursday, March 19, 2009

Military Policing The Public In Alabama And No One Will Say Who Called Them To Duty

Posse Comitatus...

Read this story - let me know if it is as disturbing to you as it is to me. It is being pooh-poohed as a non-issue and that people were generally happy to have the extra help on hand. The question remains - who called these 22 military troops to the scene and was it Constitutionally proper? Are we just being made used to the notion that it is o.k. to have military people performing policing functions? (Hey they were just being helpful and useful in a difficult situation). Some say a little bit of their presence can't be harmful, can it? What do you think?

Some excerpts:
The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command is investigating how and why 22 active duty MP’s from nearby Ft. Rucker, Ala., came to be placed on the streets of Samson during the night of a horrendous murder spree in the tiny South Alabama community – a possible violation of the federal Posse Comitatus Act.

Experts on the use of military troops for civilian purposes say it is becoming increasingly difficult to know where the line is drawn between proper use and improper use.

Civilian attorney Craig Trebilcock, a reserve colonel in the Army Judge Advocate General’s office, told that in recent years, the president, Congress and the courts have all “muddied the waters” when it comes to civilian use of military force.

Trebilcock said the basic idea of the federal Posse Comitatus Act is very clear – the active use of the military as a police force within the borders of the U.S. is forbidden.

“The basic rule is, you don’t use the Army or Marine Corps to go out chasing criminals. When you have active duty Army troops, they are not supposed to go out and catch bank robbers, for example,” he told

Congress has approved a few exceptions to the ban on active use – but not many.

“One is called the Stafford Act,” he said. “During times of tremendous civil disturbance, the governor of a state can invite in federal troops by requesting them from the president. And the last we saw that was in the Los Angeles race riots back in the ‘90s.”

Another exception is in the case of civilian insurrection. But all active use of the military must originate from “very high sources,” Trebilcock pointed out.

“Individual unit commanders cannot authorize a violation of Posse Comitatus, nor can they invoke any of the exceptions,” he added. “That request must come from the governor of a state or ‘the national command authority’-- which is basically the military’s term for the president or secretary of defense.”

The problem, he said, is that court rulings over the last few years have made it “perfectly acceptable” to use military troops within U.S. borders for “logistical support” or “humanitarian relief” for civilian authorities -- and actions by Congress and the president have further complicated things.

“We increasingly see the military doing different types of logistical support at major civilian events like the Olympics or the Super Bowl,” he said. “This is where the line gets blurry.”

The courts have ruled that ‘passive’ use of the military does not violate the Posse Comitatus Act, he said. But the line between passive use and active use is “paper thin,” he added.

“But basically anytime you are putting military forces in control of civilians, you have a problem,” Trebilcock said. “Arresting people, detaining people, executing searches, knocking on somebody’s door and saying, ‘We’re looking for somebody’s gun’ or something like that – that’s pure law enforcement, and there’s no way of wiggling around that.”
I don't know, but I am just hearing too many instances lately of our military either being trained or being used in policing functions.

“Silent enim leges inter arma.” (In time of war the law falls silent) - Cicero's Pro Milone