Liberty isn’t usually lost overnight.
More often, it is compromised away in small pieces.
Maybe that’s the way it will happen in America.
There were no screaming headlines last February, for instance, when a new Department of Defense instruction altered U.S. law to allow the U.S. military to quell domestic “civil disturbances” without so much as presidential authorization.
In and of itself, an action like this may seem insignificant to some.
But for those who have followed the long-term trend of militarizing of civilian law enforcement over the last few decades, this law-key action is alarming. While most Americans weren’t paying much attention, over the last several decades, America has been moving down the slippery slope toward becoming a police state:
- The federal government has been seducing state and local law enforcement into partnership with and subservience to Washington by providing training programs, subsidies and military-style equipment.
- The federal government has been cavalierly creating more and more armed police forces in agencies ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Internal Revenue Service.
- The federal government has routinely blurred the lines of jurisdiction with the creation of multi-agency task forces, almost always headed by the FBI or other federal cops.
And then there was Boston.
Did Americans notice what happened in the wake of the marathon bombings? Did they see how a city was shut down by a military-style occupation? Did they care how difficult it was to distinguish between U.S. soldiers and civilian police forces? Was there any difference?
And before that came Barack Obama’s campaign pledge to create a “civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded” as the U.S. military.
Apparently no one else in the national press found that promise newsworthy, because I was the first to call it to the attention of the public days later. Interestingly, the pledge had been stricken from transcripts of the speech handed out to media.
What ever happened to the “civilian national security force” initiative? No one in the press has dared to ask that question.
Nor were there many questions last December when both houses of Congress passed the defense reauthorization bill that killed the concept of habeas corpus – legislation that authorized the president to use the U.S. military to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens without charge or trial.
The lines of demarcation between military matters and civilian matters were blurred again earlier this year when, over the objections of Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Guard’s top officer became the fifth member of that body that advises the president on national security matters.
“There is no compelling military need for this change,” said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, during his congressional testimony on the bill. Nevertheless, Congress knew better. Obama knew better. In fact, all six four-star generals testified in a Nov. 10 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the idea of including the National Guard honcho as a member of the Joint Chiefs would create needless confusion and reduce the authority of the other military representatives.
Even Obama’s own defense secretary, Leon Panetta, opposed the measure. He told reporters that membership on the Joint Chiefs should “be reserved for those who have direct command and direct budgets that deal with the military.”
And now one more wall between military and civilian control has been smashed to bits.
Notice the vague language in the revision of U.S. law that allows military intervention on the streets of America in the event of “civil disturbances.” What kind of civil disturbances would be so extraordinary that “federal military commanders” would be granted full presidential authority? What kind of national emergency would incapacitate even the president and his civilian successors from authorizing such sweeping actions?
Keep in mind, the U.S. military has heretofore been prohibited from intervening in domestic affairs except where permitted under Article IV of the Constitution in cases of domestic violence that threatens the government of a state or the application of federal law.
Yet 235 years of law and historical tradition appears to be breaking down.
And liberty, as we have known it in America, is hanging on an increasingly bare thread.