US Army sergeant asserts Posse Comitatus is not being violated

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wikinews recently published an article which explained that NorthComm, through an Executive Order of the President of the United States, directed the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team to return to the United States from active duty missions in Iraq to begin training in a new role. NorthComm says that these troops will be used to protect the United States from threats within the United States, as well as to provide a support role to local and state agencies during times of emergency, such as with Hurricane Katrina.

Critics, however, believe that moving an active military unit back to United States soil represents a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which makes it illegal for federal military resources to act as law enforcement agencies against civilians. The article included citations from critic Namoi Watts, who based part of her opinion on an interview with retired U.S. Air Force Colonel David Antoon. Ret. Col. Antoon stated that a military coup was already under way through the actions of NorthComm, and that other branches of the government would be powerless.

Wikinews reporter Kevin Fields had an opportunity to speak with an active duty member of the United States Army, a sergeant who is currently deployed to a peace keeping mission in Iraq. Federal laws officially prevents him from giving making any statement on military policy, however he agreed to do so on the condition of anonymity. The initials used here are not his initials of his name, only used as a pseudonym. Sgt. P.S.N. was asked to review a source article from the Army Times website which provided the original breaking information, and to provide his opinions on the article as well as follow-up questions.

Kevin Fields: In summary, what do you believe is happening here, from a military standpoint?

Sgt. P.S.N.: As far as I can tell, they won't be in charge of law enforcement, so no, this is not a violation of Posse Comitatus. As far as crowd control and disaster relief are concerned, that's certainly not without precedent.

Kevin Fields: Right, but before they've always been under the control of state officials, such as a governor or local law enforcement, correct?

Sgt. P.S.N.: The National Guard was called into Little Rock in 1957 to prevent black students from enrolling in Central High School as per Brown v Board. Eisenhower called in the 82nd Airborne, federalized the Arkansas National Guard, and ordered them to escort the students into the school. They hung around for months afterward to keep the peace. The military was used to quell the Watts riots in South Central L.A. in the 1960s, and again in the aftermath of the Rodney King trial in 1991.
In the cases where NorthComm is called to provide troops from the 1st BCT of the 3rd ID, they will still be used at the discretion of the local officials.

Kevin Fields: So it is possible that the President can assign federal troops to act in law enforcement officials, and it NOT violate Posse Comitatus? Or would such a case clearly violate it, but nothing can be done about it?

Sgt. P.S.N.: No, the president cannot order them to act as law enforcement. He can order them to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign AND domestic.

Kevin Fields: What would be the difference?

Sgt. P.S.N.: You're not going to see Humvees patrolling your city streets, writing tickets, and arresting shoplifters, wife beaters, or even rapists and murderers. You will see them stop rioting, looting, violent demonstrations, and the like if the local law enforcement does not possess the ability to do so. They won't be involved without either a request from local officials or a determination by DHS or FEMA that such involvement is necessary.

Kevin Fields: Critics have suggested that this is part of a strategy to usurp power and consolidate it in the Presidency. Is it possible for a President of the United States to stage a coup by deploying the CCMRF and NorthComm to permanently take over an area where there is rioting or a national disaster?

Sgt. P.S.N.: No. For one thing, Congressional oversight prevents this. For another, I'm quite certain the Supreme Court would claim original jurisdiction in a case such as that. This is one reason presidents are limited to two terms.

Kevin Fields: So even though this unit, and NorthComm, are under the direct command of the President, Congress can still stop his actions?

Sgt. P.S.N.: They can call for hearings to examine his actions. Congress is who impeaches and ultimately removes the President from office if he usurps his authority.
Would you expect on-the-ground commanders to ignore executive orders if they overstepped the granted authority?

Kevin Fields: Critics say that such hearings would not be swift, and that such action would not directly affect the President or any action he takes through this unit. Would you agree with that?

Sgt. P.S.N.: The only mandate NorthComm has is to provide support to Homeland Security operations, so no.
The three things I'd ask you to remember are these: First, there is precedence dating back nearly to the beginning of this nation's history for using the military in times of national emergency or cataclysmic disaster. Second, when there are cases where the citizens of an area have overpowered the police, such as in New Orleans during Katrina or the aforementioned riots in L.A., the military's mandate to defend the U.S. against domestic enemies is pretty much a no-brainier at that point. Third, who else is training to handle mass casualty situations such as dirty bombs, 9/11 type of events, or mass poisoning epidemics? These are things that the United States military are trained to handle that relatively few other agencies are equipped or funded to handle.
The whole point of NorthComm is so that the military is better organized and better able to respond on short notice than we were after Katrina.

Kevin Fields: Thank you for your input into this story.

This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.