New military unit
for domestic deployment
By Jon E. Dougherty
The new command, established Oct. 7 in Norfolk, Va., will be called the U.S. Joint Forces Command, and replaces the former U.S. Atlantic Command. At a ceremony commemorating the new unit, Defense Secretary William Cohen told participants the American people shouldn't fear the potential of seeing U.S. military forces on the streets of U.S. cities.
The military must "deal with the threats we are most likely to face," Cohen told reporters, downplaying concerns about troops operating on home soil. "The American people should not be concerned about it. They should welcome it."
The new command is designed to prepare U.S. troops to fight abroad or to respond if terrorists strike with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
In opposing the measure, critics cite the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits federal troops from participating in domestic law enforcement activities under most circumstances. With the concern over domestic terrorism rising since the World Trade Center bombing and numerous incidences of cyber-attacks on U.S. defense and financial institutions, the Clinton administration has begun to relax some of those restrictions.
In July, WorldNetDaily reported the new measures would end the requirement for local law agencies to reimburse the federal government for any local use of military equipment, as well as enable the Department of Defense to deploy military troops in cases of anticipated or actual terrorist attacks.
Then, David Kopel of the Independence Institute warned that the measures would, if passed, "set (bad) precedents for years to come."
Since the Waco debacle in 1993, when federal law officers and military personnel assaulted a church community resulting in the deaths of over 80 men, women and children, Kopel said the federal government has been "eroding the protections contained in the Posse Comitatus Act." In the past, he told WorldNetDaily, most of the amendments to the original law had been based on bogus drug issues. Now, he said, that issue seems to have shifted to so-called terrorist attacks, or at least the threat of them.
The Defense Department has said only the military has enough equipment to operate in a poisoned environment, or to manage a massive decontamination effort. Secretary Cohen told reporters last week that federal law will not be violated because the military would only respond if requested.
"It is subordinate to civilian control," he said.
But Gregory Nojeim, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., told WorldNetDaily he is concerned about "nightmare scenarios" like those in the recent films, "Enemy of the State" and "The Siege."
"Soldiers are not equipped, by training or temperament, to enforce the laws with proper regard for civil and constitutional rights," he said. "They're trained to kill the enemy."
Nojeim said the ACLU is concerned about "letting loose the most effective fighting force in the history of the world" on American civilians.
Cohen said that the creation of the Joint Forces Command would better coordinate the training of the four armed services. However, history is replete with reasons why some Americans continue to be hesitant about using military troops in a law enforcement capacity.
Besides questions about the Army's Delta Force role during the Waco siege, most recently, in 1997, U.S. Marines assigned to assist the U.S. Border Patrol in combating illegal immigration accidentally shot and killed an 18-year-old goat herder. That force has since been withdrawn and reassigned, but lawmakers have remained committed to expanding the military's civil law enforcement role in other ways.
For example, the military also has been given an expanded role in defending against cyber-terrorism, or assaults on U.S. computer systems. The U.S. Space Command in Colorado will be leading that effort.
Nojeim questioned the need for such an expansion of federal military forces into the domestic law enforcement arena, even though U.S. officials have said the nation is now at greater risk of terrorist attack. He also believes the White House should do a better job of educating the American people about why the changes to the Posse Comitatus law are needed.
"For years the federal government has showered the FBI with hundreds of millions of new dollars to help it combat crimes involving chemical and biological weapons," he told WorldNetDaily. "Taxpayers need to know where that money has gone and why the president now wants to call in the troops."
Addressing the long-term ramifications of the change in military law enforcement policy, Nojeim said, "When the crisis hits, those with the biggest guns will be subordinate to no one."
Related stories: More military police powers? Panel sees danger ahead for America
Jon E. Dougherty is a staff writer for WorldNetDaily.