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Posse Comitatus


The Military's Growing Involvement In Domestic Law

For more than a century the U.S. military has been banned from involvement in routine domestic law
enforcement. This tradition of separating the role of national defense from domestic law enforcement
has it's origins in the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. This law prohibits the army from being involved
in domestic arrests, or in searches and seizures. This ban was later extended to the other services. It
was passed in response to abuses committed by occupation troops in the South after the Civil War.

This long tradition, which has helped to insure liberty and democracy for Americans, was quietly
abandoned in 1989 when Congress and the Bush administration ordered the military into the "war on
drugs". Since then the Pentagon has spent more than $7 billion on counter-drug activities, using tens
of thousands of active duty and reserve personnel.

Active duty units are primarily used to monitor and patrol for drug smuggling activity using
sophisticated surveillance and communication systems. These units are assisted by thousands of
National Guard troops whose activities are not normally restrained by the Posse Comitatus
legislation. This allows them to perform routine police activities such as inspecting cargo, analyzing
intelligence, and translating wiretapped conversations.

The military's involvement in domestic policing activities has now been institutionalized and is being
coordinated in the Defense Department by the Joint Task Force Six (JTF-6).

Supporter of using the military in drug enforcement activities argue that drug use threatens the country
economically and socially. Some military commanders see counter-drug operations as providing
troops with useful training. While law enforcement officials see it as an opportunity to benefit from
sophisticated surveillance and communication systems that they wouldn't normally have access to.

Opponents of giving the military domestic law enforcement responsibilities and powers remind
supporter of the abuses by troops that originally lead to passage of the Posse Comitatus legislation.
They also point out that the military's involvement in drug enforcement efforts haven't had any
discernible impact on the availability of drugs in the United States; so why take the risk of losing our
liberties when we gain nothing in return.

People need to ask themselves where the movement to involve the military in domestic policing
activities is going to stop. Are Somalia, Hati, and Bosnia simply peacekeeping activities, or are they
being used to train U.S. troops for the near future when they will be patrolling the streets of the
United States as they now patrol Bosnia. 

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