Imagine sitting in your home smoking a joint, or participating in a peaceful public pot protest, when suddenly you find yourself confronted by soldiers in full combat gear who treat you like a foreign enemy.
This scenario, which has long been a reality for pot people across the United States, may now become even more commonplace.
In late July, with the US stock market crashing due to criminal activity engaged in by Bush’s corporate allies and campaign contributors and with Vice President Dick Cheney under investigation for corporate malfeasance and for manipulating the nation’s energy policy to benefit his friends in the energy industry, Bush called for Congress to review and possibly rewrite an 1878 law that bans Navy, Army, Marine and Air Force soldiers from participating in arrests, searches, seizure of evidence and other police activity on U.S. soil. The 1878 “Posse Comitatus Act” was put in place because US soldiers committed civil rights violations, mostly against freed slaves, just after the Civil War.
The Act was generally obeyed until the war on drugs heated up during the early 1980’s. In 1981, Congress “reviewed” the Act and amended it to allow drug war military assistance to civilian law enforcement agencies.
Even though President Reagan’s Secretary of Defense warned against using military forces for civilian law enforcement, then-Vice President George Bush (father of the current president and later himself a one-term US president) put together a military-civilian drug war team in 1983 that used military assets in drug interdiction activities in America and in the Caribbean.
After Bush became president in 1988, he and drug czar William Bennett convinced Congress to add hundreds of millions of dollars to the military’s anti-drug budget. Bush also helped enact numerous changes to National Defense Authorization Acts, made the Pentagon into the government’s leading anti-drug intelligence agency, increased the use of National Guard and regular military troops in domestic and foreign drug war operations, and expanded US military assistance of foreign police and military in anti-drug operations.
In November 1989, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney established a drug war “joint task force” based in El Paso, Texas. The task force offered police the assistance of covert operations units, Navy SEALS, Green Berets, and Marines. In 1997, the military operation came under fire when US Marines killed a harmless Hispanic sheepherder near the Texas-Mexico border (see article on Kevin Zeese in Cannabis Culture, issue #39, soon available at a mail box or magazine store near you).
Bill Clinton continued the militarization of the drug war by appointing General Barry McCaffrey as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in 1995. McCaffrey, a 29-year Army veteran, had been Commander in Chief of the U.S. Southern Command in Panama where he was responsible for coordinating anti-drug efforts in Central and South American countries.
Reliable reports have portrayed McCaffrey as a ruthless military commander whose actions against Iraqi soldiers during the Persian Gulf War may have been war crimes. He brought similar ruthlessness to his domestic and international drug war policies, threatening doctors with arrest if they discussed medical marijuana with patients in states where voters had legalized medpot, and increasing the use of military hardware and tactics against harmless peasants in Third World countries.
Posse Comitatus Act loopholes have long existed: the Coast Guard and National Guard troops under the control of state governors are excluded from the Act, and have long been used in drug war operations, most notably against outdoor pot growers in Northern California during the 1980’s.
The Pentagon gives the Border Patrol and other anti-drug agencies hundreds of millions of dollars worth of “excess military equipment,” including Blackhawk helicopters, heat sensors, night vision telescopes and electronic intrusion devices. The Pentagon has also set up a huge military-civilian anti-drug spy agency based in Texas, using the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which used to be used to track nuclear weapons launches during the Cold War, as a primary drug war asset.
Bush and Homeland Security Czar Tom Ridge are hoping that Congress will allow new exemptions so that more military personnel and hardware could be used against US citizens on US soil.
Ridge tried to spin the proposal, admitting that it “goes against our instincts as a country to empower the military with the ability to arrest,” and calling the chances of using military soldiers as police officers “very unlikely.”
On the other hand, Ridge said during a Fox News show, the US government should be prepared to use the military in domestic circumstances. Ridge urged Congress to “have a discussion about posse comitatus.” Don’t expect Democrats to put up much resistance to the Bush-Ridge proposals.
Two influential Democratic senators agreed with Bush and Ridge that the law ought to be reviewed.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said “I don’t fear looking at it to see whether or not our military can be more helpful in a very supportive and assisting role even than they have been up to now – providing equipment, providing training, those kinds of things which do not involve arresting people.”
Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he favors expanding the military’s role in domestic operations. The posse comitatus law “has to be amended,” Biden said, “but we’re not talking about general police power.”
Such proposals must be viewed in the context of the Bush administration’s bold moves to take away fundamental civil rights in post-9/11 America.
Even before he was named by Bush last year as to be the nation’s first Homeland Security Czar, Tom Ridge was known as a virulent police state supporter.
When he was governor of Pennsylvania, he enacted aggressive anti-crime laws that were later ruled unconstitutional. He revved up the state’s war on drugs, worked to remove the rights of defendants in criminal trials, and supported state police as they unconstitutionally harassed and brutalized peaceful protesters, especially during protests at the Republican National Convention in summer, 2000.
Ridge has been one of the prime movers behind the administration’s Operation TIPS and VIPS proposals, which have been widely criticized because they ask citizens, especially those who are postal workers and others with unusual access to people’s private lives, to nark on each other in ways that could be illegal or abusive.
Combine the posse comitatus proposals with already-enacted civil liberties violations contained in the USA Patriot Act and other Bush-Ridge policies, and you have legitimate reason to suspect that a military-police occupation of the US may be in place within a year, unless citizens rise up through voting, non-violent protests, and other means to defeat what is surely one of the most repressive regimes ever seen in a “democracy” in modern history.