For many, the swearing-in as president of an African-American is a true token of a democracy that is constantly evolving and reflective of a people that have embraced the miscellaneousness of their society.
To the Secret Service, upon whom the onus for the inauguration security falls, and the Department of Homeland Security officials, it is a nightmare that warrants operational planning, coordination and deconfliction, and asset mobilization akin to preparing for a war.
And with the help of Northern Command (NorthCom), a war is what Mark Sullivan, Director of the US Secret Service, and Judge Michael Chertoff, Director of the Department of Homeland Security, have been preparing for. NorthCom is a unified combatant command that was activated on October 1, 2002. In a post 9/11 environment, the Bush administration gave it broad responsibility to respond to catastrophic emergencies and to protect and defend, in conjunction with local, state, and federal civilian authorities, US states, Hawaii and Puerto Rico excluded. For the upcoming inauguration, it is mobilizing 11,500 troops to provide direct support to the Secret Service and Homeland Security’s efforts to defend the D.C. area against any possible civil disturbance or terrorist attack on the president-elect and the president, government officials and installations, and the attendees.
According to US Air Force General Victor E. Renuart Jr., Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, the customary tight air defenses over D.C. will see an increase in the number of patrols; the military contingent will include Army and Air Force engineer units, medical units, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear explosive (CBRNE) attack experts and the Marine Corps Chemical, Biological Initial Reaction Force, a Navy weather team, and members of the Defense Logistics Agency and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency; over 4,000 troops will provide security at the National mall and around Washington; their mission will be limited to crowd management (a politically correct, civilian oriented appellation for riot control.)
The security element of Northern Command will be 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Brigade Combat Team of Fort Stewart, which was put under its command on October 1st, 2008. 3ID, 1BCT recently returned from Iraq where it had conducted combat missions for a cumulative time of 35 months since the beginning of the war. This is not the first time a military unit is being used domestically; in 2005, in response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of Louisiana and Mississippi, the DoD deployed active-duty military units to support rescue missions; in May of 1992, an ad hoc Joint Task Force comprised of California Army National Guards, 7th Infantry Division from Fort Ord, and 1st Marine Force from Camp Pendleton, effectively controlled Los Angeles and suppressed the riots caused by the Rodney King verdict.
In a departure from its standard operating procedures (SOP), the Department of Defense is dedicating 3ID, 1BCT to NorthCom for one year. Chief of NorthCom future operations, Army Col. Louis Vogler, stated that each year a new military brigade will be ordered to directly support NorthCom in the conduct of what the DoD refers to as operations other than War (OOTW). These units will be known as CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force, or CCMRF. They will conduct specialized domestic operations and will train on the domestic use of newly fielded lethal and non-lethal modular packages designed specifically for a war zone and tested in Iraq.
Civil liberties advocates are concerned that the public is blind to the gravity of the matter. They argue that such close collaboration between the military and law enforcement agencies could be damaging to the constitutional principles upon which our democracy was founded. They contend that the DoD’s Delphic doctrine on the use of active-duty combat elements in domestic missions may lead to the violation of the 1878 Posse Comitatus and the 1807 Insurrection acts which restrict the use of the military for law enforcement missions. Rep. Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat and the House Armed Services Committee Chairman, stated that the security measure is viable because “It means you’re training America’s Army to meet all possible contingencies.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is preparing to challenge the Bush administration’s new domestic security measures on the appropriateness of assigning a combat military unit focused on counterinsurgency to face-off US citizens in a possible demonstration; the situation could have devastating consequences; ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with the Department of Justice and the Pentagon recently asking for records relating to the domestic assignment of active military forces to the Northern Command.
During the annual National Homeland Defense and Security Symposium in Colorado Springs, General Renuart Jr. admitted Northern Command has regularly assisted with law enforcement activities in the past. ACLU is trying to ascertain whether the assistance provided by NothCom was within constitutional limits. “It seems to be an incremental approach where the military is being used for narrow missions, but then more and more types of narrow missions until they all combine into one overarching mission,” said Mile German, National Security Counsel for ACLU’s legislative office in Washington, D.C.
The White House maintains the administration’s aggressive counterterrorism efforts have prevented more bloodshed at home. Bush’s homeland security advisor Kenneth L. Wainstein highlighted the USA Patriot Act, intelligence and homeland security reorganizations, and the removal of legal barriers to cooperation between intelligence and law enforcement agents as important steps to stymieing terrorist plans to attack the US.
The military’s involvement in the suppression of civil dissent is outlined in a master military contingency action plan known as the United States Civil Disturbance Plan 55-2. The Plan is code named “Operation Garden Plot” and gives the military total authority to crack down on any civil disturbance by a resistance group, religious organization, or other persons considered to be non-conformist. Annex A, section B of Operation Garden Plot defines civil “Disruptive Elements” as tax protesters, militia groups, religious cults, and general anti-government dissenters; it allows for the use of deadly force against any extremist or dissident perpetrating any and all forms of civil disorder. The plan was initially uncovered by journalist Ron Ridenhour who summarized his findings in “Garden Plot and the New Action Army.” In conjunction with the US Civil Disturbance Plan, the military has conducted, on numerous occasions, readiness exercises known as Rex 84 to test its ability to detain and relocate at the state and national levels large numbers of American citizens in case of major demonstrations and strikes that would affect continuity and functionality of government and/or resource mobilization. Under the Bush administration’s policies, such detentions could be indefinite and enmeshed in judicial folderol. In anticipation of judicial obstacles in the event of a major civil disobedience quelling, the Center for Law and Military Operations (CLAMO) published in August 2001 - prior to 9/11 - the legal rationale for domestic military operations in a doctrine titled: “Domestic Operational Law Handbook for Judge Advocates.” According to its author, the document offers a “greater understanding of the legal issues” involved in “domestic support operations.”
Although the government constantly stated that there are no eminent security threats during the upcoming presidential inauguration, thousands of anti-Bush protesters are scheduled to demonstrate. The potential of an attack against Barak Obama from extreme right activists is anticipated. Other demonstrators, disenfranchised with the current economic situation and the government “’slap on the wrist” approach against the supercilious Wall Street financial firms will use the inaugural event to voice their discontent. The dedication to domestic operations in support of law enforcement of an active-duty military combat unit that has regarded the civilian population in Iraq and Afghanistan as enemy is a potential threat to US civil liberties. The threat is compounded when such use is subsumed in an implemented Operation Garden Plot.
Needless to say, the election of Barak Hussein Obama to the Presidency of one of the greatest democracies in the world might have inhibited tyrannical elements within the government that have found in the Bush administration the right environment to bud. The dismantlement of such undemocratic systems that have germinated within the government needs to be one of The Obama administration’s priorities. Failure to do so would be, to quote Malcolm X, a serious case of “chickens coming home to roost.”
Ahmed T. B