Saturday, December 13, 2008

Emergency Response Units Won't Perform Law Enforcement, Official Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service

The Pentagon's three new rapid-response task forces will assist civil authorities during possible terrorist attacks or natural disasters, but they won't perform law-enforcement missions, a senior Defense Department official said here yesterday.
Some people have surfaced concerns that active-duty soldiers, who make up the core of the first 4,700-member joint task force established in early October, could be used to perform police functions, which would be in violation of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and Americas' security affairs, told American Forces Press Service and Pentagon Channel reporters.

The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits active-duty military members from conducting domestic law-enforcement operations.

"None of that is true," McHale said of public assertions that active-duty troops assigned to the task force will perform police duties. Instead, he said, the rapid-response units are "task-organized to deal with the technical and very challenging requirements associated with a contaminated environment."

The task force cited in public discussion, McHale said, was established Oct. 1 and is built around a core of active-duty soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Stewart, Ga. This task force, he said, falls under the control of U.S. Northern Command's Joint Force Land Component Command, U.S. Army North, in San Antonio.

Each task force will be capable of performing tasks such as medical response, decontamination, technical rescue, patient evacuation, and communications and logistics support, including air and land transportation assets for transport of supplies, people and equipment, according to U.S. Army North documents.

Plans are to stand up two more new joint task forces in 2010 and 2011, respectively, McHale said. These units, he said, will comprise mostly reserve-component personnel, mainly National Guard troops.

The new task forces would be ordered into action by the president following requests for disaster-relief assistance from state governors, McHale said.

In the event of civil disturbances and some other types of emergencies, McHale said, active U.S. military units could be ordered by the president to assist civil authorities establish order as part of the Garden Plot domestic security plan.

"There are [active] military units that are prepared, under law, to ensure constitutional rights and the enforcement of federal law, under the Insurrection Act, to be deployed for a domestic security mission," McHale said.

The last time Garden Plot was activated, McHale said, was to restore order during the 1992 Los Angeles riots that followed the trial and acquittal of some local police officers who had been charged with the beating of Rodney King. Federal troops also were employed during the 1950s and 1960s, he said, to ensure the civil rights of African-American citizens.