America's New War?
September 15, 1997
The Times of the Ark-LA-Tex
From Staff and Wire Reports
Terrorism is escalating to the point that Americans soon may have to choose between civil liberties and more intrusive means of protection, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen says.
The nation's defense chief told the Army Times he once considered the chilling specter of armored vehicles surrounding civilian hotels or government buildings to block out terrorists as strictly an overseas phenomenon. But no longer.
It could happen here, Cohen said he concluded after eight months of studying threats under the Pentagon microscope. Free-lance terrorists with access to deadly chemical and biological bombs are "going to change the way in which the American people view security in our own country," he predicted in a Sept. 10 interview.
Cohen is calling for the government to step up its efforts to penetrate wildcard terrorist organizations. "It's going to require intelligence on our part -- much greater emphasis on intelligence gathering capability, more human intelligence, and it's going to take more technical intelligence," he said.
But using the U.S. military in a domestic law enforcement role would require revisions to laws in force for more than a century, cautions Shreveport attorney John Odom Jr. "You can't do it from the Defense Department side unless Congress dramatically revises the Posse Comitatus laws," said Odom, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and a reserve judge advocate.
The 1878 law specifically prohibits the use of the military in domestic law enforcement unless authorized by Congress or the Constitution and does not allow for military intervention through action by the Secretary of Defense or even an executive order from the president, Odom said.
"We're trained from the first day of judge advocate school to think of Posse Comitatus," Odom said. "If Secretary Cohen is suggesting that the Department of Defense be involved, it may be part of a legislative package, but it will not happen unilaterally without a lot of folks thinking long and hard about it."
Cohen said terrorism would be a top priority in five new areas he plans to focus on now that he has wrapped up his first defense budget, the quadrennial review of the military and a new four-year defense strategy.
Other goals include modernizing the military, improving troops housing and other benefits, streamlining the defense bureaucracy and shaping new military relationships and contracts across the globe.
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