US Government Report Argues for Police Force for American Interventions Overseas

Tuesday, 07 September 2010 08:47 By Matthew Harwood, t r u t h o u t | Report | name.

US Government Report Argues for Police Force for American Interventions Overseas
(Photo: Chad Davis)

President Barack Obama's declaration Tuesday that the US combat mission in Iraq is officially over may give some Americans hope that US foreign policy may become less invasive and adventurous, especially if American troops begin to return home from Afghanistan by the end of 2011. Yet, inside the defense establishment, some intellectuals continue to examine the need for the United States to build a paramilitary police force to deploy to fragile or failing states to restore security and order.

In May 2009, the federally financed RAND Corporation published a 183-page report, "A Stability Police Force for the United States: Justification and Options for Creating US Capabilities". The report, conducted for the US Army's Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) at the Army War College, examined the need for a "stability police force" (SPF), which it described as "a high-end police force that engages in a range of tasks such as crowd and riot control, special weapons and tactics (SWAT) and investigations of organized criminal groups." Most soldiers do not possess the specialized skills an SPF officer needs to prevent violence, the report notes. "Most soldiers are trained to apply overwhelming force to secure victory, rather than minimal force to prevent escalation." The SPF would also train indigenous police forces, much like what occurs today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the study led by Terrence K. Kelly, a senior researcher at RAND, the United States clearly needs an SPF. "Stability operations have become an inescapable reality of US foreign policy," the report states. The RAND report estimates that creating such a paramilitary police force would cost about $637 million annually, require about 6,000 personnel and that it should be headquartered inside the US Marshals Service (USMS), not the US Army.

"Of the options considered," the RAND report argues, "this research indicates that the US Marshals Service would be the most likely to successfully field an SPF, under the assumptions that an [military police] option would not be permitted to conduct policing missions in the United States outside of military installations except under extraordinary circumstances and that doing so is essential to maintaining required skills." The idea here is that members of an SPF would be a "hybrid force" and could be embedded in police and sheriff departments nationwide to retain their policing skills when not deployed overseas. When needed, a battalion-sized SPF unit could be deployed in 30 days.

This recommendation did cause a small number of libertarians to take notice of the report after it was published because of the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids using the military for domestic policing inside the United States. Libertarian William Grigg blogged on LewRockwell.com that he feared that an SPF could be used domestically. "If 'peacekeepers' end up patrolling American streets, they probably won't be foreigners in blue berets, but homegrown jackboots commanded by Washington," Grigg wrote. Chris Calabrese, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, was less fearful of an SPF, but he told Truthout that the report's recommendation to headquarter "a super police force that would be deployed both foreign and domestically in the US Marshals Service" did violate the spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act.

"In essence, you have this force that would in theory be a civilian force that would be part of the US Marshal Service but they would be deployed as part of the Army and the military forces," Calabrese said. "That would be their primary deployment purpose. Their civilian purpose would be secondary. They describe it as a training purpose. So who does this police force work for then?"

Talking to WorldNetDaily in January, Kelly did say an SPF could be deployed in the United States, although that's not what their primary purpose is.

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"If there were a major disaster like Katrina it could be deployed in the U.S. but that's not the purpose of the research," he said. "It's important to point out that the goal was to create a force that's deployable overseas. If it's to be used in the United States it would be a secondary thing and then only in an emergency."

The RAND Corporation would not make any of the report's authors available for an interview. Emails to the USMS asking for a comment on the report and its recommendations also went unanswered.

Calabrese also said there are practical concerns behind such a force outside of the Posse Comitatus Act. "It's also somewhat strange," he said. Calabrese wonders what would happen when SPF personnel get called up from wherever they're embedded to deploy overseas. "What happens to all the police work they're doing domestically?" he asked.

But the RAND report has more implications for the future of US foreign policy than it does about the militarization of police inside the United States. It signals that some defense and peace intellectuals believe that the United States will continue to intervene in fragile and failing states. After listing the stability operations that the United States has participated in since the end of the cold war - Panama (1989), Somalia (1992), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1995), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003)and Haiti again in 2004 - the RAND report notes this trend will continue. "There are several countries where the United States could become engaged in stability operations over the next decade, such as Cuba and Sudan," according to the report.

While an SPF could be part of a multilateral response directed by the United Nations, the RAND report also imagines times when the United States will need an SPF to restore security and order in another country because it has acted unilaterally. "While there may be times in which allies make important contributions, to do so would be to limit US freedom of action on the international stage."

Robert Perito, a senior program officer at the United States Institute of Peace and the author of "Where Is the Lone Ranger When We Need Him? America's Search for a Post Conflict Security Force", believes a stability police force is necessary, especially after the looting and rioting that occurred in Baghdad after the US invasion of 2003. If the United States was able to prevent that disaster, the Iraq campaign could have gone differently.

"We have a proven need for a capacity that would makes things better if it existed," Perito said. "We refuse to do it and we keep ending up with a negative result."

The United States, however, once did have some of the capabilities of a SPF, said Perito until Congress scuttled it in 1974. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) once trained foreign police officers at the International Police Academy in Washington, DC. In a recently released paper from the PKSOI, retired US Army Col. Dennis Keller explains why Congress eventually ended US assistance to foreign police and closed the academy.

"Congress's growing opposition to USAID's police training and assistance programs peaked in 1973, the concern being that police trainers had allegedly approved, advocated, or taught torture techniques to civilian police in some countries, which in turn had damaged the image of the United States," Keller writes. While other departments like Homeland Security, Justice and State do train foreign police, Keller notes there is no SPF capacity and that the training is a bureaucratic maze, carried out by large contract police trainers, like DynCorp and MPRI in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He, like Perito, however, believes the United States needs a centralized, government-led policing capacity to restore order in a fragile and failing state before terrorist or criminal organizations fill the power vacuum and then transition to training police forces to carry out their public safety duties.

Perito says four federal agencies entities have recently put forth proposals to create stability police forces to deploy overseas. He said two of those agencies were federal law enforcement entities, but would not name them, although he said one does have personnel in Iraq.

"These are serious federal agencies," he said. "I don't have much of a fear that this is going to turn into a rogue force that goes wandering around getting into trouble."

Perito, however, is skeptical there is any real movement to create an SPF from the upper echelons of the US government. "I don't think this is on the president's agenda," he said.

"From my perspective, I really wish it was true, that this was moving forward at a rapid clip," Perito said. "But I don't think it's imminent."

Matthew Harwood

 Matthew Harwood is a journalist in Washington, DC, and a frequent contributor to the Guardian's Comment is Free. His writing has appeared in The Washington Monthly, Progress Magazine (U.K.) as well as online at Columbia Journalism Review, CommonDreams, and Alternet. He is currently working on a book about evangelical Christian rhetoric and aggressive US foreign policy. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mharwood31.

Last modified on Tuesday, 07 September 2010 09:22