Northern Command General Endorses Posse Comitatus Review

Newsmax 07/22/02

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Although Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the Pentagon would not seek any changes in the venerable Posse Comitatus Act that restricts the use of the military in domestic operations, President Bush's new plan for domestic security included a notable provision calling for Justice and Defense attorneys to review it.

Now Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, the officer charged with defending the continental U.S., has gone on record that he’s all for it and would endorse changes in the law if that translated into a better-defended country.

"My view has been that Posse Comitatus will constantly be under review as we mature this command, as we do our exercises, as we interact with FEMA, F.B.I., and those lead federal agencies out there," the New York Times quoted Gen. Eberhart Sunday.

The Posse Comitatus Act was enacted after the Civil War in response to the perceived misuse of federal troops who were charged with keeping order in the South.

Despite the Act’s restrictions on using military forces to performing domestic law enforcement duties, the law has been amended and loosened in modern times. Examples: assisting federal agencies in drug interdiction work, protecting national parks, executing quarantine and certain health laws – and most recently supporting civilian agencies at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City this year.

However, Eberhart stipulated that he had no specific changes in mind.

The Times noted that the willingness of General Eberhart and some other senior officers to consider amending the law signals a shift in thinking by many top Pentagon officials, who have historically steered away from involving the military in domestic law enforcement.

Since 9-11 the act has caused some dilemmas, according to the Times report. When National Guard troops were deployed on the Canadian border after Sept. 11, the Posse Comitatus law prevented those troops from conducting surveillance from the helicopters that flew them to their assignment.

In another example, administration lawyers opined that President Bush would violate Posse Comitatus if he directly called up National Guard troops to help provide security at airports nationwide. Bush instead asked governors to use their call-up authority to perform the same task.

Eberhart’s new Northern Command, which officially kicks off on Oct. 1, will run military flying patrols over American cities, search the waters up to 500 miles off the United States coast, and respond to major terrorist attacks.

Eberhart has said that he is anxious to use new technology, including unmanned surveillance blimps cruising at 70,000 feet and Predator drones scanning American coastlines.

The general said it was also possible that the North American Aerospace Defense Command would expand beyond the United States and Canada to include Mexico.

"To defend this nation, we have to defend as far out as possible," General Eberhart said. "Therefore we need the support of Canada and Mexico to be able to defend our interests."