Military Policing of the United States

By Kiser, George C. | The Humanist, May-June 1997 | Go to article overview

Military Policing of the United States


Kiser, George C., The Humanist


The current rush to law and order via military policing of the United States violates basic principles of democracy and American tradition. Until recently, the only large scale military policing of the nation had occurred in the post-Civil War South, where federal soldiers often played a major law enforcement role even after the return of civilian governments. Then in 1878, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act, declaring army searches, seizures, and arrests on American soil a penitentiary offense. This act was later extended to other branches of the military.

Yet, President Ronald Reagan resurrected the functional equivalent of military law enforcement when he declared the flow of drugs and illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexican border a threat to national security and ordered military involvement. The Reagan precedent has continued, even escalated, under George Bush and Bill Clinton--and, incredibly, all without national debate or serious congressional deliberation.

Although Posse Comitatus is still on the books, two big loopholes have enabled the Reagan Bush Clinton rush toward military policing. First, that act has never covered the National Guard. Second, Congress, at the urging of recent administrations, has passed several acts explicitly authorizing a host of military activities stopping just short of technical searches, seizures, and arrests. And, as noted by Timothy Dunn in his recently published Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border, the military role in domestic law enforcement is now so broad and deep that it might as well be searching, seizing, and arresting.

In its domestic law enforcement role, the military trains and advises drug and immigration officers. It builds fences along the U.S. border with Mexico and clears brush to facilitate the apprehension of suspects. It furnishes high-tech helicopters and such Orwellian equipment as night goggles and infrared radar that can track people by the heat they emit. It conducts reconnaissance flights in the Southwest, feeding that intelligence to drug and immigration authorities. It patrols the border area and alerts law enforcement officers to suspected persons and activities. National Guard troops search automobiles at ports of entry along the border. When civilian police apprehend drug transporters, guard troops often fly the vehicles to distant points where delivery is made and the purchaser arrested. The military and civilian law enforcement agencies are jointly developing new weapons for dual military-civilian use. And this tally sheet is nowhere near complete.

Military policing is no longer limited to the flow of drugs and illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexican border. Thousands of soldiers were sent to contain the Los Angeles riots of 1992. At both Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, the military provided aerial reconnaissance, advice, and heavy military equipment. Last summer, the government sent thousands of soldiers to secure the Olympics in Atlanta.

And the expansion continues unabated and unquestioned. The Washington Post recently reported: "Army intelligence officers watch for criminal activity from investigative centers in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Greenbelt, Maryland." Also, Congress has authorized the military to extend training to state and local police. The Border Patrol, perhaps the most militarized of all law enforcement agencies, has been authorized to go beyond its traditional role of immigration law enforcement and enforce all federal laws plus the laws of New Mexico and Arizona.

And new voices regularly call for still further military involvement. The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has said he would welcome additional military assistance. Others have advocated sealing the U.S.-Mexican border with a line of soldiers stretching all along its two-thousand-mile length. And there have been calls for authorizing the air force to shoot down suspicious planes along the border. …

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