Sunday, November 30, 2003

I recently picked up a rather interesting collection of essays entitled "Militarizing the American Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and the Police", edited by Peter Kraska. While I'm certainly not on of those so far on the Left as to compare Bush to Hitler or our current government to a totalitarian "police state", I do think there have been some important trends in military/police relations the past 20 years which deserve further study. This book has done a great job so far addressing some of the major issues. A good starting point for this discussion is the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. The purpose of Posse Comitatus was to prevent military forces from becoming involved in civilian police matters, except in extreme cases. (Note: this only includes federal armed forces, not the National Guard, Coast Guard, etc. Check out this for details.) Unfortunately, this act has been watered down with subsequent legislation (beginning during the Reagan Administration's "War on Drugs") to the point of being almost entirely ineffectual. Military and police cooperation is now routine. Here are 2 great arguments against this type of development:

- From the military perspective: It's bad to have troops in a police situation since it goes against military training, and can have lasting negative effects on basic combat skills. In the words of one colonel: "combat trained Marines shouldn't be diminishing hard-learned skills by squeezing off warning shots." Military personal have to suppress their combat instincts to be good policemen, leaving their skills dangerously eroded should they be needed in a real combat situation.

- From a civilian perspective: In simple terms, "it's hard to believe that a soldier with a suspect in his sights is well positioned to protect that person's civil liberties." This introduces a fundamental difference in views on police and military targets. Military targets are enemies to be killed, police targets are citizens with rights who are innocent until proven guilty. When a difficult situation arises military personnel tend to revert to a combat-oriented model, giving rise to a number of potential violations to police procedures which are crucial in our democratic society.

Here is something I found particularly interesting in one of the essays: "A plan has been proposed - though scrapped for the moment - to establish a single commander with authority to oversee domestic defense in the event of a terrorist attack. According to press reports, this "homeland defense commander" would have the "know-how and authority to quickly dispatch technicians and troops, who could help deal with terrorist attacks that officials fear could inflict thousands of casualties and disrupt whole cities." That was written 3 years before the genesis of the Department of Homeland Security.

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