Military Quietly Grants Itself the Power to Police the Streets Without Local or State Consent
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“This is a complete erosion of the rule of law,” says O’Brien. Knowing these sweeping powers were granted under a rule change and not by Congress is even more harrowing to activists. “That anything can be made legal,” says O’Brien, “is fundamentally antithetical to good governance.”
As far as what might qualify as a civil disturbance, Afran notes, “In the '60s, all of the Vietnam protests would meet this description. We saw Kent State. This would legalize Kent State.”
But the focus on the DoD regulatory change obscures the creeping militarization that has already occurred in police departments across the nation. Even prior to the NDAA lawsuit, journalist Chris Hedges was critical of domestic law enforcement agencies saying, “The widening use of militarized police units effectively nullifies the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.”
This de facto nullification isn’t lost on the DoD.
The DoD official even referred to the Boston bombing suspects manhunt saying, “Like most major police departments, if you didn’t know they were a police department you would think they were the military.” According to this official there has purposely been a “large transfer of technology so that the military doesn’t have to get involved.” Moreover, he says the military has learned from past events, such as the siege at Waco, where ATF officials mishandled military equipment. “We have transferred the technology so we don’t have to loan it,” he states.
But if the transfer of military training and technology has been so thorough, it boggles the imagination as to what kind of disturbance would be so overwhelming that it would require the suspension of centuries-old law and precedent to grant military complete authority on the ground. The DoD official admits not being able to “envision that happening,” adding, “but I’m not a Hollywood screenwriter.”
Afran, for one, isn’t buying the logic. For him, the distinction is simple.
“Remember, the police operate under civilian control,” he says. “They are used to thinking in a civilian way so the comparison that they may have some assault weapons doesn’t change this in any way. And they can be removed from power. You can’t remove the military from power.”
Despite protestations from figures such as Afran and O’Brien and past admonitions from groups like the ACLU, for the first time in our history the military has granted itself authority to quell a civil disturbance. Changing this rule now requires congressional or judicial intervention.
“This is where journalism comes in,” says Freedman. “Calling attention to an unauthorized power grab in the hope that it embarrasses the administration.”
Afran is considering amending his NDAA complaint currently in front of the court to include this regulatory change.
As we witnessed during the Boston bombing manhunt, it’s already difficult to discern between military and police. In the future it might be impossible, because there may be no difference.