Friday, October 10, 2008

Journey of discovery

I got into a discussion yesterday with Nora, who blogs at extra! extra! from Dublin, Ireland. She has a very interesting point of view on happenings in the U.S., especially when it comes to the looming election. As a former reporter I'm always intrigued by opinions from folks who see the same things I do, but see them differently. It's a big part of the job, in fact.

Our discussion, and my subsequent journey of discovery, dealt with this article from Alternet about a recent change the Army made in its assignment of a unit, the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division. The 1st BCT is stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., near Savannah.

The Alternet article is interesting, along with being totally misleading from the get go with the headline "Thousands of Troops Are Deployed on U.S. Streets Ready to Carry Out 'Crowd Control.'"

First of all, not a single soldier from the 1st BCT has been deployed on an American street. How do I know this you ask? Well, as I said on here before I used to make my living as a reporter. More specifically, I covered the military: Fort Hood, Texas, (Army) and Camp Lejeune, N.C. (Marines), so I feel I've got a certain understanding of how these things work. I'm also pretty confident that the former me analog (Pamela E. Walck, the Savannah Morning News reporter who covers all things Fort Stewart) would have written an article about the deployment of a brigade combat team.

She hasn't, I checked.

I knew exactly where every major unit at Hood and Lejeune were on a daily basis, and if any of them changed I got busy taking notes and writing the story.

"How did you know when soldiers were going places Foggy?" Well, the answer to that is very simple: Soldiers like to bitch, and reporters like to listen. The Army also likes their soldiers to be married (don't ask me why, but that's a topic for another post), and wives (they are mainly wives) hate it when their soldiers get sent places. When this happens the wives tended to call the paper and bitch about how lonely they are and how mean the Army is for sending their husbands far, far away to, like, California (this was back in the days before consecutive Iraq and Afghanistan tours).

Also, it takes a hell of a lot of effort to move a brigade of troops. Days and days of ass-kicking hard work loading tanks, Brads and Hummers onto rail cars, which then leave the post and are easily visible.

Finally, the Alternet article references this article from Democracy Now. This slightly-less-alarmist article about "Sea Smurfs" (one of the best verbalizations of an acronym I've ever heard) references yet another article from Army Times by Gina Cavallaro.

Ahhh, now we're getting somewhere. I knew Gina professionally in my former life and she is one of the best military reporters I've ever met. She is a reporter who really cares about the soldiers she covers. Check out this article for evidence of that statement. I cried when I read it.

Cavallaro's "Brigade Homeland Tours Start Oct. 1" spells out what the 1st BCT is going to be doing while it is assigned to the Northern Command. It will serve as "an on-call federal response force for natural or man made emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks."

"They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack" Cavallaro goes on a little further down.

It'd be a stretch to define the word "emergency" as "we don't like how you voted, so we're going to call out the Army" don'cha think?

Amazingly, this little article has led to an explosion of conspiracy theories raging across the 'net and blogosphere about how the president is going to suspend posse comitatus and we're all going to be living under the iron thumb of a repressive christian republican government led by George W. Bush forever. OK, maybe not that raging, but close. Bush did issue a signing statement earlier this year saying he doesn't agree with Congress taking away some of the powers it gave the president in 2006 that would allow him to use troops domestically.

What I'm wondering is this: Do any any of these folks really understand what an Army Brigade is and, if they do, do they really think the Americans who make up that brigade would really trample their rights?

To answer the first question, a brigade combat team in the 3rd ID has about 3,000 to 3,500 soldiers, perhaps 40 or so M1A2 Abrams tanks, perhaps 80 to 90 M2A3 Bradley fighting vehicles, some artillery and various and sundry other units attached. Seems like a lot of power, and it is but, and here's the but, it's capabilities are severely limited. This well-armed and powerful force would be unable to secure Arlington County, the smallest county in the U.S. Let's not even talk about it being able to do anything to the District or NYC (which has a 25,000-officer police force, six to eight times larger larger than a BCT).

One of the comments from the Alternet expert "retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and patriot David Antoon" involve the brigade sending tanks into the District to fire at the Post's offices if the president didn't like what it wrote about him. Folks, this didn't work in Russia (remember Yeltsin climbing on the tank?) what makes them think it would work in D.C.

As to the second question, I've known and interviewed perhaps two dozen brigade and regimental commanders through the years and not a single one of them would obey an illegal order to "pacify" a group of Americans. They would, if the situation called for it such as after another terrorist attack or Hurricane Rita, go into an area to establish order and make sure the folks living there were safe. That's their job: to protect Americans.

As a member, observer and student of our military for more than 20 years, I'm pretty confident nothing would horrify and repulse the leaders and soldiers who've sworn to uphold the Constitution, not a political party, than an order to march against their fellow citizens.

And, if I'm wrong about this, well, the people screaming about the possibility will learn why the Founders made sure to include the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights. (Hint, it's to protect We The People from the government.)


Nora said...

Foggy, three points on which you might elucidate (I'm interested, but not looking for an argument!):

"They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control", means working domestically as/with law enforcement?

Posse comitatus should prohibit this?

And "Bush did issue a signing statement earlier this year saying he doesn't agree with Congress taking away some of the powers it gave the president in 2006 that would allow him to use troops domestically."

Which means it's HIS signature that stands, not Congress's decision. Isn't that correct?

My understanding is that Bush has done at least 85 of these "signing statements" while in office.

I'm not seriously suggesting either (1) that the military would be used during this election, OR, (2) that American troops would fire on Americans. I'm interested in changes in the law. Habeas Corpus is gone in the USA since the Padilla case, and it looks like Posse Comitatus is gone too.

FoggyDew said...

Nora - Point 1: The military has been used domestically several times in recent memory including after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; units sent to work with police during the Salt Lake Olympics in '02; my own personal experience covering units from Camp Lejeune following Hurricane Floyd and seeing friends go to Florida after Hurricane Andrew; and, a bit further back, Eisenhower sending the 101st Airborne into Little Rock so nine children could go to school.

Point 2: A signing statement is a president's way of saying how he will or won't enforce a law. In this case Congress had given powers in '06, but took them back this past January and the president didn't like that. That's why there's a Supreme Court.

Point 3: For the record, presidents going back to James Monroe have used signing statements. Clinton, Bush the Elder and Reagan used many, many more signing statements during their time in office. Clinton most of all. W has used the tactic about 150 times.

Habeas corpus has also been suspended many times in the past: World War II (the Japanese who were interred and the German spies who were executed); World War I; the Civil the past Padilla would have been quietly shot and no one ever would have heard of him.

Zipcode said...

Damn good post

and yep you are right about this
"units sent to work with police during the Salt Lake Olympics in '02"

FoggyDew said...

Zip - as good as local cops are, most PDs don't have air search and air defense capabilities. (Yeah, I wrote a story about them...when they got back. Shuuush. Don't tell anyone.)