National Security

Letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Miller

November 17, 2020


The Honorable Christopher Miller
Acting Secretary
Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000


RE:Amnesty International USA calls for halt to domestic deployments of military forces in response to election-related protests


Dear Acting Secretary Miller:

On behalf of Amnesty International USA and our members and supporters, we write urging you to refrain from deploying military forces or personnel in response to any protests related to the recent U.S.presidential election that may occur in Washington, D.C. and other cities over the coming weeks. Following the death of George Floyd in May and the protests that ensued in cities across the country, Amnesty International documented how law enforcement officials, including federal agents, repeatedly used excessive force against protesters, including through physical beatings with batons, the misuse of tear gas and pepper spray, and the inappropriate and at times indiscriminate firing of so-called“less-lethal”projectiles.
These actions came amidst widespread and egregious human rights violations by law enforcement officers against Black Lives Matter protesters, journalists, legal observers and street medics throughout the country over the summer. Amnesty International documented these violations in a comprehensive report titled“The World is Watching: Mass violations by U.S. police of Black Lives Matter protesters’ rights.”

Amnesty International, The World is Watching: Mass Violations by U.S. Police of Black Lives Matter Protesters’ Rights, July 2020,

In his speech on 1 June, President Trump threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 (210 U.S. Code § 251 to 254b), which gives the president the power to send military forces to states to quell widespread public unrest and to support civilian law enforcement. In situations where stability is not restored, the president may then issue an executive order to deploy troops to quell the violence. Shortly before this speech,personnel from multiple law enforcement agencies including the DC National Guard, the Secret Service, the US Park Police and the Federal Bureau of Prisons Special Operations Response Team, used excessive force in clearing the area near Lafayette Park, just outside the White House grounds. The officers misused a variety of crowd control agents and threw US-manufactured Stinger Ball grenades, which contain pepper spray and explode in a concussive “flash-bang” effect, throwing rubber pellets indiscriminately in all directions. Bureau of Prisons personnel also deployed pepper balls against retreating protesters.The excessive use of force against peaceful protests was a part of an operation to clear the park in lieu of President Trump, Attorney General William Barr, former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and other administration officials, walking from the White House across the street to St.John’s Church, where President Trump posed in front of St John’s Church for a photo opportunity. Two days earlier, reports had emerged that soldiers from Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Drum in New York were ordered to be ready to deploy within four hours if called, while soldiers in Fort Carson in Colorado and Fort Riley in Kansas were told to be ready within 24 hours. Reports later confirmed that on 2 June,approximately 700 members of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg in North Carolina were sent to two military bases near the District Capitol Area, joining the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, which is based in Washington, DC. According to a 22 June 2020 letter from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley to two US Congressional representatives, neither the 82nd Airborne nor the 3rd US Infantry Regiment were ever called off base or into the city to respond to protests. The 82nd Airborne Division was sent back to Fort Bragg on 4 June.

The Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S. Code § 1385) prohibits the US Army and US Air Force from performing domestic law enforcement activities while regulations issued by the Secretary of Defense under 10 U.S. Code§275, prohibits members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps from direct participation in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law. While the Insurrection Act (10 U.S. Code § 251 to 254b) is one exception to the prohibition of military forces for domestic purposes, Amnesty International is calling on you to refrain from deploying such forces should the Insurrection Act be invoked by the President. Military forces are generally not suitable for carrying out law enforcement tasks and should not be deployed to conduct law enforcement duties unless under exceptional and temporary circumstances, based on a clear needs assessment as to their added value in a concrete situation. In such a deployment, they are bound by the legal framework applicable to law enforcement, including international and domestic human rights law,and may carry out law enforcement functions only if they are properly instructed, equipped and trained to do so in a lawful, human rights compliant manner. They should be subject to civilian command, control and oversight at all times.Amnesty International is concerned about the use of military personnel in any such circumstance unless their deployment is to serve such a specific legitimate objective. Military personnel do not have any experience in crowd control maneuvers and the policing of protests. Should there be a call to deploy military forces in response to election-related protests, it is difficult to see how any use of such forces would be justifiable, other than arguably to relieve law enforcement officers by conducting duties such as guarding infrastructure so that those law enforcement officials could be redeployed.As people take to the streets in cities across the country following the outcome of the US presidential election, it is imperative to ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is upheld, protected and facilitated by the government. Any deployment of the military to police protests or otherwise act in a law enforcement capacity should therefore be prohibited.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] 646/832-5775.


Daphne Eviatar, Program Director, Security with Human Rights

Joanne Lin, National Director,  Advocacy and Government Affairs


Cc: Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry, House Armed Services Committee

Chairman James Inhofe and Ranking Member Jack Reed, Senate Armed Services Committee