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Expanded domestic use of U.S. military raising civil liberty concerns

The Pentagon
The Pentagon  

October 7, 1999
Web posted at: 10:27 p.m. EDT (0227 GMT)

From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Changes in the Pentagon's command structure designed to give the military a supporting role in responding to domestic terrorist attacks or natural disasters is raising alarm among some civil libertarians.

In Norfolk, Virginia, on Thursday, top military leaders, and their civilian superiors, unveiled a retooled U.S. Joint Forces Command, formerly the U.S. Atlantic Command.

The new command will coordinate its efforts with federal law enforcement agencies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, Secretary of Defense William Cohen said "it is very clear (the command) is subordinate to civilian control."

VideoMilitary Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre reports that civil libertarians have reservations about the Pentagon's reorganization
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Pentagon officials say the idea behind the change is to give a president options short of martial law to deal with domestic crises.

"The reason that you want the Defense Department working now with the FBI, with the Justice Department, with FEMA is so we know how we will work when the time comes and we don't have to resort to extreme measures nobody wants in this country," said Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre.

Also, a defense bill signed this week by President Bill Clinton contains a little-noticed provision that expands the authority of the military to assist law enforcement authorities in case of chemical or biological attacks.

The Pentagon argues that only the military has the field hospitals, helicopters and special chemical and biological equipment that would be vital in the aftermath of a major gas or germ attack.

"I should think the taxpayers would be upset if they thought we weren't preparing to help out the citizens in case of a catastrophic event," said Adm. Harold Gehman, who heads up the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

But the specter of armored military vehicles and armed troops on the streets of American cities has its critics.

"If the plan were simply to carry cots, to deliver supplies, to rescue people, we would be talking about a plan that included, as a feature, no armored vehicles and no armed soldiers," says Gregory Nojeim, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "I haven't heard a peep about that from the Pentagon."

Critics point to the disastrous siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993 -- in which military officials were called in to assist the FBI and the ATF -- as evidence that the military is already too involved in law enforcement.

"At Waco, there were dozens of Bradley fighting vehicles, there were tanks and there were soldiers," said Nojeim.

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U.S. Department of Defense
Federal Emergency Management Agency
American Civil Liberties Union
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