Monday, December 1, 2008

Libertarian Alert

The Washington Post has an article detailing a plan to deploy military troops on American soil in the event of a terrorist attack. I wonder what my friend over at Bi-Coloured Python-Rock-Snake has to say about this? A snippet from the article:
The U.S. military expects to have 20,000 uniformed troops inside the United States by 2011 trained to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear terrorist attack or other domestic catastrophe, according to Pentagon officials.
Here's my thought: These things start out so simply and innocently. The intent is good, but it can go bad so easily. If not substantially, then symbolically it is the wrong move. It conjures images that have seldom--Kent State comes to mind-- been a part of the American memory. Apart from the singular evil that was the American War Between The States, the idea of military troops bearing arms in the homeland (apart, of course, from training, which has always been closely confined to military bases) is a relatively new one.

Questions abound: How do military troops interact with other security and police forces within the country? The federal law known as posse comitatus was passed during the period of Reconstruction at the end of the civil war to restrict military presence and activities in the southern states that had attempted to secede from the Union. How far the interpretation of that law has extended to its application today I don't know. At first blush it doesn't apply, but it may have morphed into more extensive interpretations which would restrict the sort of thing the military has planned now. An opinion on the state of the statute here.

A further snippet from the article:
Domestic emergency deployment may be "just the first example of a series of expansions in presidential and military authority," or even an increase in domestic surveillance, said Anna Christensen of the ACLU's National Security Project. And Cato Vice President Gene Healy warned of "a creeping militarization" of homeland security.
The "innocent" aspect to this is just that the military appears to be in a better position from a funding and training perspective to react to the extreme case of a terrorist nuclear attack. To not plan for such an event is foolhardy, and it appears Congress has been pushing the military to come up with substantial scenarios for some time, to which this plan is a response.

1 comment:

Evan said...

My first thought is pretty similar to yours: This isn't unreasonable, but it rightfully makes one uneasy on account of where it could lead.

I think it's a good idea to have troops trained in disaster response (regardless of whether the disaster being prepared for is natural or manmade). National Guard units are regularly called up for disaster response in their home states, so it seems reasonable to prepare active duty troops to perform similar duties on a federal level. Additionally, the future of the American military will no doubt include many "soft power" missions such as those deployed following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 Pakistan earthquakes. We're already quite good at these things, but I've got no problem working to make us better yet.

At the same time, deploying ground troops within the US, even for disaster relief, is rightfully touchy. I'd be much more comfortable if, before it happens, posse comitatus is updated with hard and fast limitations on the roles soldiers can play in such a scenario. For example, if there's any thought that the soldiers might need to be armed, I don't think they should be there. This is a situation where I'd much rather err on the side of caution.