by Eric Margolis
NEW YORK -- Of all the bad ideas that have been pouring
from the Bush administration - the faux war on terrorism,
the Palestine mess, invading Iraq, curtailment of civil
liberties, unilateralism, growing deficits, farm subsidies,
steel tariffs - among the very worst is the dangerous
proposal that U.S. military forces be given domestic police
Bush administration officials, notably the chief of the
newly created Northern Command, Gen. Ralph Eberhart, have
been calling for the Pentagon to assume a much greater
domestic role in the so-called war against terrorism. A
role, apparently, that would give the military power to
conduct investigations and surveillance, use troops to
"maintain order and security" and arrest American citizens.
Canadians might be next, since Canada has been involuntarily
placed under the U.S. Northern Command.
This frightening plan comes on the heels of Bush's
cutely named but sinister TIPs program, a network of citizen
informers that recalls evil memories of ubiquitous Soviet
and Chinese civilian informers, children denouncing parents,
and East Germany, where a quarter of the adult population
spied for the Stasi secret police.
In the magisterial Roman Republic, father of all our
western democracies, consular armies were forbidden by law
to enter the city. The Romans realized over 2,400 years ago
that soldiers had to be strictly kept out of politics. The
Roman Republic died during the 1st century BC civil wars
after military leaders Marius, Sulla and, later, Caesar,
brought their armies into politics.
America's Congress - which was patterned on the Roman
Senate - clearly recalled this history when it passed the
Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which outlawed the use of
federal military forces for domestic law enforcement.
Congress was intent on maintaining supremacy of civilian
rule and protecting civil liberties. Properly restrained,
the military was a useful tool; unrestrained, a dangerous
and ruthless master.
Soldiers are trained to kill enemies, not to perform
complex police duties that require professionalism,
restraint and knowledge of the law. Long, painful experience
around the world has repeatedly shown that once the military
is brought in to "maintain order" or perform policing, it
almost inevitably becomes corrupted, despotic and
One need only look at the doleful history of Pakistan,
Indonesia, Nigeria, Egypt, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay,
Chile and Venezuela to see that when soldiers take over
internal security, they inevitably end up taking over the
government as well. When soldiers are allowed to police,
they suddenly realize their latent power and go from being
second-class citizens to cocks of the walk. Law quickly
gives way before raw power. Those who have served in the
military - as this writer has - have a healthy fear of
military justice and its drumhead implementation.
Interestingly, the Soviet communists were even more
sensitive to this threat. Lenin repeatedly warned of
"Bonapartism" and urged the party to keep control of
internal security and police in the hands of civilians.
The Posse Comitatus Act was amended by the Reagan
administration to allow use of the military in an earlier
bogus "war" - the war on drugs.
In this case, the military was sent to identify and
intercept drug smugglers outside America's borders. At the
time, the idea seemed reasonable. But in retrospect, the
inflow of drugs has barely been reduced while the military
has ended up with a boot in the door of domestic law
In 1997, Congress gave the military the power to
co-operate with other government departments in countering
biological or chemical attacks. This made sense because the
military had an arsenal of biowarfare detection,
neutralization gear, vaccines and the training to use them.
But Congress expressly forbade the military from arresting
civilians during biowarfare operations.
Now, some of the far-rightists who populate the darker
corners of the Bush administration are using public fear and
hysteria generated by incessant claims of imminent nuclear
or biowarfare attack to press for what amounts to the
beginning of national martial law. We hear calls for greater
surveillance of phones and e-mail. Next will come calls for
limits on speech and dissent. George Orwell laid out this
whole grim process in his epochal novel, 1984. Anyone who
wants a feel of what martial law would be like should see
the gripping Burt Lancaster film about a Pentagon coup
against the White House, Seven Days in May.
Fortunately, Congress, much of the top brass and even
Pentagon super-hawk Donald Rumsfeld seem opposed to this
daft idea. Good for them. Separation of the civil and
military is even more basic and sacred an American concept
than separation of church and state.
The voice Americans should be listening to is that of
the closest thing the United States had to a noble Roman
tribune - former president Dwight Eisenhower. As this great
American and former general was leaving office, he warned
his people that the gravest threat they faced was not from
abroad but from their own military-industrial complex.
The U.S. has ample civilian law enforcement agencies to
ensure domestic security - perhaps too many. Americans don't
need soldiers to act as super-cops. Osama bin-Laden and the
far right must not be allowed to stampede the U.S. into
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster,
and author of War
at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and
Tibet which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000]
[ . . . curious development in January when the Army Corps of Engineers
awarded Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root a $385 million contract
to construct detention centers somewhere in the United States, to deal with
"an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid
development of new programs,"--Nat Parry, "Bush's Mysterious
'New Programs'," Sunday Times, February 21, 2006]
[AT&T provided National Security Agency eavesdroppers with full access to
its customers' phone calls, and shunted its customers' internet traffic to
data-mining equipment installed in a secret room in its San Francisco
switching center, according to a former AT&T worker cooperating in the
Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against the company.--Ryan Singel,
Outs NSA Spy Room," Sunday Times, April 7, 2006]
[Public Law 109-364, or the "John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007"
(H.R.5122) (2), which was signed by the commander in chief on October 17th,
2006, in a private Oval Office ceremony, allows the President to declare a
"public emergency" and station troops anywhere in America and take control
of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or
local authorities, in order to "suppress public disorder."--Frank Morales,
"Bush Moves Toward
Martial Law," Toward Freedom, October 26, 2006]
[This company, Narus, which was founded in Israel and has large Israel
connections, does the - basically the tapping of the communications on AT&T.
And Verizon chose another company, ironically also founded in Israel and
largely controlled by and developed by people in Israel called Verint.
. . . the founder of the company, the former head of the company, is now a
fugitive in - hiding out in Africa in the country of Namibia, because he’s
wanted on a number of felony warrants for fraud and other charges."--"James Bamford: 'The Shadow Factory:
The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America',"
democracynow.org, October 14, 2008]
[ . . . the U.S. military has deployed combat-tested troops to a
homeland-defense mission here in the United States. The unit is the 3rd
Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, which has just returned from
duty in Iraq. . . . there is nothing to prevent the Pentagon from ordering
the 3rd Infantry Division to sweep into cities and towns across America and
round up enemy combatants.--Jacob G. Hornberger, "The Real Value of the
Standing Army," fff.org, January 6, 2009]
[Under the new rules, the president would approve the use of the military’s
expertise in computer-network warfare, and the Department of Homeland
Security would direct the work.--Thom Shanker, "Pentagon
Will Help Homeland Security Department Fight Domestic Cyberattacks,"
nytimes.com, October 20, 2010]
Copyright © 2002 Eric Margolis - All Rights