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On "Law Enforcement Battalions"

Posted By Grim • [July 23, 2012]

As a practical fact, the United States Marine Corps has found itself assisting local law enforcment agencies in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.  They have been helping to train police and other security forces, and they have been actively engaged in policing actions -- everything from writing tickets for traffic violations, to investigating acts of terrorism for prosecution under Iraqi or Afghan law.

The Corps has decided to formalize this approach to some degree, and has now created some "Law Enforcement Battalions" consisting of military police and dogs.  

Their reasons for doing so are understandable to all of us, but there are some concerns that we ought to voice.  First of all, there is the political concern that these battalions not be employed to enforce the law at home.  Unlike the Army and Air Force, who are covered by the Posse Comitatus Act, the Navy and Marine Corps are restricted from being used as law enforcement only by DOD regulation.  Such a regulation is easily disposed-of by any sitting President.  

We ought to consider whether we want Marine battalions deployed to enforce the law in places like Chicago (which, as Jimbo pointed out recently, is more deadly than Afghanistan), or if we would prefer to cleanly separate military and police functions here in America.  Either way, we should ask candidates for Federal office where they stand, and tell them what we prefer.  

A second concern arises from the question of whether this kind of training puts Marines at risk.  

"This is a smart idea because the biggest single problem the Marines have in dealing with low-intensity types of threats is that they basically are trained to kill people," he said. "It's good for the Marines to have skills that allow them to contain threats without creating casualties."

The flip side of that is that Marine Corps training as structured offers a clear method for action.  In stress, we fall back on what we've been trained to do.  The Marine is trained to act.  Introducing this set of complications leaves them trained, instead, to pause and consider.  There is some danger that introducing complications into the training will reduce their combat effectiveness when killing is required.

A third concern arises from the question: Just what law are they going to enforce?

"Am I a Marine or a cop? Can I be both?" he said. "Cops apply human rights law and Marines apply the law of war. Now that it's blended, it makes it tougher for the young men and women who have to make the decision as to when deadly force is not appropriate."

I'm not familiar with this thing called "human rights law."  I know about the law of war, and I know about civil law.  The civil law in Afghanistan is rooted in one of the six branches of sharia.  Where does that leave our Marines if they are called upon to 'enforce the law' in a case where we find the law objectionable?  Say they are asked to help apprehend an apostate:  what should they do?  Are they law enforcement officers, or are they representatives of the United States of America, with all its core of values?

Ultimately, I must say that I find this approach ill-advised even though I completely understand the reasons that suggest it.  Others may feel differently, but surely we can agree that these concerns deserve to be addressed.


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