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Countering Terrorism in the Heartland -- Can We Afford Posse Comitatus Any Longer?

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Research paper 2002-2003

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National security policy makers have opened the debate on the necessity of revising the Posse Comitatus Act Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1385 to confront extant threats to homeland security. A unique confluence of circumstances supports the timing of this debate the events of 11 September 2001, with their pervasive influence on the Administrations new National Security Strategy the recent National Strategy for Homeland Security and just-published National Strategy for Combating Terrorism passage of the bill establishing a new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security and, within the Department of Defense, the establishment of Northern Command, a combatant command tagged with defense of the homeland. The Posse Comitatus Act is not the sacred cow it once may have been. Over time, Congress has gradually carved out exceptions to prohibitions on the use of the military for law enforcement. These legislative measures recognize that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, with likely access by committed terrorist groups, changes the policy calculus. In a perfect world, local police enforce domestic law while soldiers fight enemies abroad. But the neat dichotomy between law enforcement and national security has blurred. In some cases, using military force in the United States to counter a threat by terrorists may indeed constitute the most effective means to preserve national security. Sections 1 and 2 of this paper present background information on the debate over the militarys role in Homeland Security and a history of the Posse Comitatus Act. Subsequent sections discuss the individuals who are calling for a revision of the Act, a conceptual framework for revising or repealing the Act, the benefits of a revision, and the arguments against reform. The author is on the side of those who wish to revise or repeal the Act. 74 refs.

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  • Sociology and Law
  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Civil Defense

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