Plans to train, put U.S. troops on the streets worry rights advocates
Denver police officers with their weaponry at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. Photo: The Final Call Archives/Ashahed Muhammad?If we want to reduce crime, we need to increase education and increase economic opportunity. We will actually worsen the case if the only jobs available are those policing other people. The Nazis tried that and it didn?t work. Mussolini tried that and it didn?t work and it certainly didn?t work in the 1700s with Americans.? ?Paul Sullivan, Executive director, Veterans for Common Sense
(FinalCall.com) - Plans announced by the U.S. Department of Defense to have 20,000 additional uniformed troops dispatched in America by 2011 have been met with criticism from former veterans, law enforcement officials and rights activists concerned that it represents the latest development in a continued blurring of the lines between law enforcement and military operations.
“We are very concerned about the possible constitutional violation of posting active duty soldiers in the United States in a police function,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. “We should be very concerned that President George W. Bush is trying to violate the spirit of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution by permanently basing active duty troops in the United States with the mission of performing police roles.”
Pentagon officials recently announced plans to bolster the security efforts of state and local law enforcement agencies in the event of a terrorist attack by creating “rapid-reaction forces” that would be able to intervene in attacks or other domestic disturbances likely to result in mass casualties.
Critics have asked if this “rapid-reaction” is really emergency preparedness, or is it actually a part of the gradual and continual escalation toward martial law that has occurred under the Bush Administration moving America closer towards a police state?
Patricia Hill, the executive director of the African-American Police League, a community organization of Black law enforcement officers working to improve service and relations in Black communities, said that instead of working for solutions through prevention and intervention strategies or perhaps though additional programming and better training, control, force and punishment is always the solution for law enforcement, and it shouldn’t be.
“America is turning towards a closed, neo-fascist society”, said Ms. Hill, a retired Chicago police officer who served 21-years and author of the book “Black Ain’t Blue.” “This thing about America being an open society is an illusion. When you have people arbitrarily stopped and released—this is a now neo-fascist society and the reason that people aren’t believing it, or understanding what they are seeing, is because it has been a slow progression,” said Ms. Hill adding that the move toward a closed society did not begin under the Bush Administration but goes back to the two presidents before him.
She cited the “Three strikes” policy enacted under Pres. Bill Clinton that resulted in an increase in the number of prisoners housed in the American penal system, the 1996 “Contract With America” led by Newt Gingrich and the dismantling of the Soviet Union under Pres. Ronald Reagan. All moved America closer and closer to a closed society, she said. Ms. Hill recommended that President-elect Barack H. Obama, as a constitutional lawyer, and his Attorney General Eric Holder examine the constitutionality of this policy and perhaps issue a “cease and desist order.”
President-elect Obama has not commented publicly on the plan, however, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has already signed off on it.
Studies such as “Militarizing American Police: The Rise and Normalization of Paramilitary Units” by Prof. Peter Kraska of the University of Eastern Kentucky and “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America” by Radley Balko of the Washington-based Cato Institute, have documented this policy of escalation being adopted by police departments across the U.S. that involved obtaining more powerful and sophisticated weaponry to go along with their more aggressive policing methods.
With American troop availability already spread thin fighting conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with unpredictable political relations between India and Pakistan possibly resulting in American military intervention, veterans are concerned that yet another responsibility is going to be placed on the already overburdened armed forces.
“If we want to reduce crime, we need to increase education and increase economic opportunity. We will actually worsen the case if the only jobs available are those policing other people. The Nazis tried that and it didn’t work. Mussolini tried that and it didn’t work and it certainly didn’t work in the 1700s with Americans,” said Mr. Sullivan.
Mr. Sullivan, who served in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq with the U.S. Army during the 1991 Gulf War, said he hopes that the Obama Administration would review the reasons for this domestic initiative. While he acknowledged that there have been times when the military has been asked to intervene in domestic affairs, such as the riots in major cities in the 1960s and to aid in the school integration in the 1950s and 1960s, special care has to be taken to ensure that troops are not being misused.
White supremacists in the ranks?
Another reason for concern according to activists is the revelation that there have been attempts by members of White supremacist organizations to infiltrate all branches of the United States armed forces, some of whom might be chosen for deployment in the cities.
Military officials said they do their best to weed out individuals with White supremacist affiliations and beliefs.
“You’ve always had White supremacists in the armed forces,” Ms. Hill said. She believes the military is doing its best to prevent these recruits from entering so they would not be accused of “facilitating” this type of military training. “The White supremacist mindset is dominant in the military anyway,” she said.
“The only thing that new recruits in the military agree to do is to protect and defend our Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic,” said Mr. Sullivan. “Those who would shred the Constitution by using torture or those who would want to shred our Constitution by pitting people against each other in a race war, or anything else” are in violation against the core principles of military service, he added.
“Because the military is broken and there is no draft, the military is now accepting unqualified recruits. Some of those recruits are more interested in joining the military to assist their gang or joining the military to learn violent tactics for a racial supremacist group or to promote their view of religion,” Mr. Sullivan maintained.
Capt. Carl Redding, public affairs officer for the Media Relations Department of the United States Marine Corps said that although the image of the military has taken a hit over the past few years, the USMC has not relaxed recruiting standards and hit recruitment goals bringing in 39,000 new Marines in 2008. “Our standards have not changed at all,” said Capt. Redding.
In a recent unclassified intelligence assessment released in July 2008 titled “White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel since 9/11,” the FBI set out to examine the reasons White supremacist groups have attempted to increase their recruitment of current and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces and the impact of such recruitment on the White supremacist movement.
“The identification of current and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard) in the extremist movement draws exclusively from FBI case files from October 2001 to May 2008. It is based on the assumption that military veterans involved in White supremacist extremism may exploit their access to restricted areas and intelligence or apply specialized training in weapons, tactics and organizational skills to benefit the extremist movement,” said the report.
The report adds, “FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews and people of color. FBI cases also document instances of active duty military personnel having volunteered their professional resources to White supremacist causes.”
Capt. Redding, said the USMC conducts extensive pre-screening and analysis of individuals prior to their enlistment—and even after they are enlisted—to ensure recruits adhering to those types of ideologies or maintaining those types of associations are eliminated. The USMC will prosecute anyone found engaging in that type of activity according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he added.
“Overall, the military and all of the services, we are a reflection of society (and) no matter what we try to do to as far as trying to weed out those individuals who would not be good Marines or good soldiers, we still get individuals who harbor certain feelings and thoughts and some of those people will change their minds once they are in the military, and unfortunately some of those will not,” Capt. Redding said in a telephone interview from his office at the Pentagon. “Throughout the time that they are in the Marine Corps in particular—we are still actively seeking, searching and looking for those individuals and will prosecute them (using) all available military means to get them out of the military once we figure that out,” said Capt. Redding who has served in the USMC for 20 years.
Capt. Redding did admit however, that if an individual adhering to hateful ideologies was able to get through the process, complete a tour of duty without incident and held their views, in check, there would be nothing the USMC could do to stop someone from speaking to White supremacist groups or even using the training to train others. “They no longer fall under our jurisdiction during that time period,” said Capt. Redding.
Tyranny or justified action?
The Posse Comitatus Act, a 130-year-old federal law is often cited as justification for restrictions on the use of the military to participate in any domestic security issue such as a civil disturbance, counterterrorism, homeland security or any other type of domestic police work.
Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 1385 reads: “Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution of Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a Posse Comitatus or otherwise execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years or both.”
Capt. Redding said the distinction between the military and state law enforcement still exists and that active military has always been involved in a limited fashion if local law enforcement officials or the National Guard were overwhelmed or ill equipped to deal with a particular situation, which is not a violation of the Constitution or any laws.
“In general, if the federal government is called in to do a federal type of mission, then the federal government is in charge with the coordination of the local and state officials there,” said Capt. Redding.
Mr. Sullivan said he believes the problems within the military, and possibly the reasons for wanting to even enact such a force deployment are symptoms of larger issues brought about by the “incompetence and malice” of the Bush Administration resulting in a “bloody five-year occupation” of Iraq and the lack of understanding of the Constitution and overstretched troop levels and responsibilities.
“It is really important for us in the waning days of the most despicable, incompetent, (and) malicious administration in U.S. history to take a look at this last initiative of deploying active duty troops on American soil,” said Mr. Sullivan.
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