The American Civil Liberties Union today demanded information from the government about reports that an active military unit has been deployed inside the U.S. to help with "civil unrest" and "crowd control" – matters traditionally handled by civilian authorities. [FOIA request here.] This deployment jeopardizes the longstanding separation between civilian and military government, and the public has a right to know where and why the unit has been deployed, according to an ACLU Freedom of Information request filed today.
"The military's deployment within U.S. borders raises critical questions that must be answered," said Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "What is the unit's mission? What functions will it perform? And why was it necessary to deploy the unit rather than rely on civilian agencies and personnel and the National Guard? Given the magnitude of the issues at stake, it is imperative that the American people know the truth about this new and unprecedented intrusion of the military in domestic affairs."
According to a report in the Army Times, the Army recently deployed an active military unit inside the United States under Northern Command, which was established in 2002 to assist federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities. This deployment marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to Northern Command.
Civilian authorities, not the military, have historically controlled and directed the internal affairs of the United States. This rule traces its origins to the nation's founding and has been reaffirmed in landmark statutes including the Posse Comitatus Act, which helps preserve the foundational principles of our Constitution and democracy.
"This is a radical departure from separation of civilian law enforcement and military authority, and could, quite possibly, represent a violation of law," said Mike German, ACLU national security policy counsel and former FBI Agent. "Our Founding Fathers understood the threat that a standing army could pose to American liberty. While future generations recognized the need for a strong military to defend against increasingly capable foreign threats, they also passed statutory protections to ensure that the Army could not be turned against the American people. The erosion of these protections should concern every American."
In order to assess the implications of the recent deployment, the ACLU requested the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense today to immediately make public all legal opinions, executive orders, presidential directives, memos, policy guidance, and other documents that authorize the deployment of military troops for domestic purposes.
Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Department of Defense has dramatically expanded its role in domestic law enforcement and intelligence operations, including the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping programs, the Department of Homeland Security's use of military spy satellites, and the participation of military personnel in state and local intelligence fusion centers. The ACLU has repeatedly expressed concern about these incremental encroachments of the military into domestic affairs, and the assignment of active duty troops to Northern Command only heightens these concerns.
Blogger Antifascist Calling writes:
ndeed, senior NORTHCOM commanders have repeatedly dodged these questions. During an emergency, they claim JTF-CS "supports" the "Primary Federal Agency [PFA] ... designated to coordinate the government's response to a disaster or emergency situation." But "support" to a civilian agency is not the same as playing a subordinate role to civilian leadership. This is stated unambiguously by NORTHCOM: "Although the JTF-CS supports the PFA throughout a CBRNE [chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive] consequence management operation, the unit operates within a clear Department of Defense chain of command."
In other words, the "chain of command" followed by JTF-CS begins and ends with the Executive Branch and the President in his role as leader of the "unitary executive branch" and Commander-in-Chief. As former FBI whistleblower and senior ACLU national policy counsel Mike German states, "This is a radical departure from separation of civilian law enforcement and military authority, and could, quite possibly, represent a violation of law."
To facilitate an open and public assessment of recent "homeland" military deployments, the ACLU demanded that the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense "immediately make public all legal opinions, executive orders, presidential directives, memos, policy guidance, and other documents that authorize the deployment of military troops for domestic purposes."
Such a demand arises precisely because of the unprecedented expansion of the U.S. national security-surveillance complex since the 9/11 attacks.
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Attentive readers will recall that "The John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007," included a section that permitted the President to deploy the armed forces to "restore public order" or to "suppress any insurrection." As Democracy Now's Amy Goodman reported earlier this month, "while a later bill repealed this, President Bush attached a signing statement that he did not feel bound by the repeal."
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While the state justifies this deployment as a response to "terrorist threats," what other scenarios are being contemplated?
With daily reports of voter suppression drives by the Republican Party in multiple "battleground" states hitting the corporate media, and a major exposé of these antidemocratic operations by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast published in Rolling Stone, Washington's plans for the use of military force at home is a dagger aimed directly at the American people--and what remains of a democratic republic--by a thuggish and bankrupt ruling elite.
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