Division of Labor

By Sebastian Sprenger / September 16, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The American Civil Liberties Union has cautioned a newly formed Defense Department advisory panel against making recommendations that would concentrate too much disaster response responsibilities in the hands of the military.

"(W)e ask the panel to refrain from assuming at the outset that choosing to use military forces to respond to domestic emergencies is automatically the best course of action," ACLU officials wrote in a Sept. 10 letter to DOD.

Pentagon officials recently published the missive as a public comment for the Sept. 15 inaugural meeting of the Advisory Panel on Department of Defense Capabilities for Support of Civil Authorities After Certain Incidents.

The congressionally mandated group is charged with assessing DOD's ability to help civil authorities cope with a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive (CBRNE) incident on American soil.

Rather than DOD, the Department of Homeland Security would be the "natural agency" to house a dedicated CBRNE response capability, the ACLU letter states.

Panel members should consider "alternatives for emergency CBRNE response that maintain the traditional dominance of civilian agencies in domestic operations and thereby leaving the military to focus on its own mission of fighting foreign enemies," ACLU officials argue in the letter.