Pentagon's Northern Command

Unleashing the Military Within U.S. Borders

Revolutionary Worker #1161, August 4, 2002, posted at

The U.S. government is taking rapid steps to unleash its military within U.S. borders. In April, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld announced that, for the first time, the Pentagon would create a special new military command for the continental United States and neighboring parts of North America.

The U.S.' military apparatus has nine "unified commands" around the world. Each of these commands has played a notorious role in the defense of U.S. imperialism. The Central Command just conducted the military attacks on Afghanistan. The Southern Command has trained and directed counterinsurgency and coups in Latin America. Now the domestic U.S. will be the battle zone of the Pentagon's new "Northern Command." This "Northcom" will be headquartered deep in the American "heartland" -- with its command bunkers in Colorado Springs. It will have the authority to direct military forces from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard for military actions within the domestic U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the waters up to 500 miles from the North American coastline.

The plans for "homeland security" released by the White House on June 16 gave three examples of uses for these troops: combat air patrols and maritime defense; response to "attacks" (which is a vague term for many kinds of operations); and other security operations called "limited scope missions" like policing the recent Winter Olympics.

In many ways, all this represents an historic and dangerous change in the power of the U.S. military. For over a hundred years it has been illegal (under a law called the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878) for regular troops to be used for "policing" within U.S. borders. The military has been legally denied any power of arrest, search, seizure of evidence and other police activities on U.S. soil. These restrictions have long been considered an important legal barrier against military meddling in domestic politics--and even against military coups replacing civilian government.

Like so many changes after 9/11, this Northcom was simply established by executive decree from the Pentagon and White House. There was no visible debate in Congress or in the public arena, no new laws or legislative approval. However, Bush has now called on members of Congress to review the Posse Comitatus law and consider whether they should reverse it to legalize further domestic powers of the Pentagon.

Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, who heads the new Northcom operations, is publicly lobbying for overthrowing the Posse Comitatus law and openly giving greater domestic powers to the military (and to his personal command).

Tom Ridge, the government's pointman on "homeland security," said on TV: "Clearly, if you're talking about using the military, then you should have a discussion about Posse Comitatus."

All this is particularly troubling because the Bush White House has already started using its military power and apparatus as a way of locking up U.S. citizens without trial or charges. In the case of Jose Padilla, who was arrested in Chicago this spring and is being held in military prison, the Bush administration seized unprecedented new police powers by declaring that they have the right to arrest U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and hold them in military prison simply by declaring the arrested people to be "enemy combatants"--all without presenting any charges or evidence, and without holding any trial.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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