Just helping out, right?

Uh, is this as disturbing as I think it is?

The manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects offered the nation a window into the stunning military-style capabilities of our local law enforcement agencies. For the past 30 years, police departments throughout the United States have benefitted from the government’s largesse in the form of military weaponry and training, incentives offered in the ongoing “War on Drugs.” For the average citizen watching events such as the intense pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers on television, it would be difficult to discern between fully outfitted police SWAT teams and the military.

The lines blurred even further Monday as a new dynamic was introduced to the militarization of domestic law enforcement. By making a few subtle changes to a regulation in the U.S. Code titled“Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies” the military has quietly granted itself the ability to police the streets without obtaining prior local or state consent, upending a precedent that has been in place for more than two centuries.

Click here to read the new rule

The most objectionable aspect of the regulatory change is the inclusion of vague language that permits military intervention in the event of “civil disturbances.” According to the rule:

Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.

Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military,” and says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”

A defense official who declined to be named takes a different view of the rule, claiming, “The authorization has been around over 100 years; it’s not a new authority. It’s been there but it hasn’t been exercised. This is a carryover of domestic policy.” Moreover, he insists the Pentagon doesn’t “want to get involved in civilian law enforcement. It’s one of those red lines that the military hasn’t signed up for.” Nevertheless, he says, “every person in the military swears an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States to defend that Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.”

One of the more disturbing aspects of the new procedures that govern military command on the ground in the event of a civil disturbance relates to authority. Not only does it fail to define what circumstances would be so severe that the president’s authorization is “impossible,” it grants full presidential authority to “Federal military commanders.” According to the defense official, a commander is defined as follows: “Somebody who’s in the position of command, has the title commander. And most of the time they are centrally selected by a board, they’ve gone through additional schooling to exercise command authority.”

Thanks to Thomas Soldan.

6 Responses to Just helping out, right?

  1. When permitted under emergency authority in accordance with 32 CFR part 185, Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local autho May 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    I couldn’t make it through the whole thing, but agree that this is a concern:

    “When permitted under emergency authority in accordance with 32
    CFR part 185, Federal military commanders have the authority, in
    extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are
    unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities
    that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances…”

    Who, exactly, are these “Federal military commanders…?”

  2. Adams May 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    Sorry, that was a mess. May I try again?

    I couldn’t make it through the whole thing, but agree that this is a concern:
    “When permitted under emergency authority in accordance with 32
    CFR part 185, Federal military commanders have the authority, in
    extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances…”

    Who, exactly, are these “Federal military commanders…?” It would seem safe to assume that the average “military commander” does not have direct access to the President 24/7, either personally or through the chain of command.

  3. quixote May 20, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    Well, we’re no longer headed toward the territory Ben Franklin was talking about when he said that those who sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither. We’re there.

    How is it even possible to fall so far, so fast?

  4. russ May 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    Couple responses to Adams and quixote –

    Re: “…Who, exactly, are these ‘Federal military commanders?…”

    I think pretty soon we’ll be referring to them as “warlords”.

    “…How is it even possible to fall so far, so fast…”

    I know what you mean. Remember the 1964 movie “Seven Days in May”, where one officer, working in conjunction with civilian authorities, foils a plot by other officers to simply assume command of the country? These days it would be impossible to think the outcome depicted in the movie would ever occur.

  5. imhotep May 20, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    This is just a new twist on the posse comitatus law. Here’s a question, how do you train a million men and women to fight in urban settings? The answer: start the war in Iraq. Nobody here really believes that the war in Iraq was fought to help the Iraqis right? It was to train our military for close combat urban warfare. Proving once again that violence is not the answer to solving our problems. Violence only gives the 1% an excuse to call out the military.

  6. lless May 20, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    Not only does it fail to define what circumstances would be so severe that the president’s authorization is “impossible,” it grants full presidential authority to “Federal military commanders.”

    Well maybe when the C in C is “non-white” and has a forged birth certificate?

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