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Published: Monday, 11/26/2001

Remember who's in charge

In post-Sept. 11 America, armies aren't just for sending overseas anymore. At least that's the thinking of our military leaders, who want to designate a four-star general to serve as commander of “homeland” defense forces.

Although such a move will serve in some minds as a further blurring of the lines between civilian and military authority, it's not necessarily a bad idea as long as we never lose sight of who is in charge under our form of government.

Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution provides that the president of the United States, a civilian, “shall be Commander in Chief” of the military. Furthermore, federal law - the Posse Comitatus Act - prohibits the use of the military in civilian law enforcement.

This system has served the country well for more than 200 years, and there's no need to alter it, even unintentionally or by degrees.

At the same time, the Pentagon sees the need to designate a leader for the forces deployed across the 50 states, providing security at airports and patrolling the skies. Such commanders already head the military chain of command for the Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and South Asia.

This seems a reasonable move as long as it does not lead to creation of a military-backed internal security agency that could supplant civilian authority, as recommended early this year by a federal panel. As we said on Feb. 11, exactly seven months before the terrorist attacks, setting up a domestic military apparatus is “too radical a solution.” Now, even though we're no longer just dealing with threats, it is still a bad idea.

The lesson of Sept. 11 was that, given proper funding, equipment, and personnel, the National Guard and civilian law enforcement, emergency response, and health authorities are perfectly capable of attending to virtually any calamity.

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