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Separating civilian, military authority

January 28, 2007

Re "Bush's rent-an-army," Opinion, Jan. 25

After the Civil War, to prevent abuses by the U.S. military, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act. It codified the long-standing principle of separating civilian from military authority and prohibited the use of the Army in civilian law enforcement.

Over the years, there has been some erosion of that principle, most recently when the military was called on to supply aid in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. To quote the Washington University Law Quarterly, the Posse Comitatus Act "expresses one of the clearest political traditions in Anglo-American history: that using military power to enforce the civilian law is harmful to both civilian and military interests."

As far as I know, Blackwater USA is under no such constraint. Who does this organization take its orders from, and who is it responsible to? Jeremy Scahill's piece doesn't say. Is it under congressional oversight?

My concern is that without civilian control, this private army (or some other, referred to by President Bush in his State of the Union address as a Civilian Reserve Corps), could come to represent another threat to our already embattled domestic rights at some time in the future.

JOHN TRASK

Thousand Oaks

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Referring to Eisenhower's warnings about the power of the military-industrial complex is apt, considering Bush made his intent to increase the Pentagon budget known to the American public during his State of the Union address. Privatizing security has lined the pockets of war profiteers and further undermined our power, as U.S. citizens, to hold our government accountable. Democratic states, not profit-seeking corporations, should control the use of force. And the fact that defense contractors wield more influence than the American public in determining U.S. foreign strategy is of great concern. Note that a recent University of Chicago survey found that Americans want more federal spending on education and healthcare and less on defense. All the more unfortunate that billions of our tax dollars are being wasted on unethical military interventions.

BEN COHEN

Burlington, Vt.

The writer, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's, is president of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.

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