US military allowed to shoot at vehicles at entry ports along southern border

By Patrick Martin
25 October 2019

Pentagon documents leaked to Newsweek magazine reveal that soldiers deployed to the US-Mexico border have broad authority to fire on moving vehicles. The guidelines set by the Department of Defense (DoD) require only a “reasonable belief” that the vehicle is a threat to cause death or bodily harm, but the term “reasonable belief” is not defined, making the requirement a virtual green light for the use of deadly force.

The documents were obtained by Newsweek from a leaker within the Pentagon. They were issued in July as part of a broader operations order for US Army North, the formal designation for the military force deployed to the US-Mexico border by President Trump last year. Some 5,500 soldiers are currently stationed in border areas of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

The approved guidance states: “Weapons may be fired at a moving vehicle or watercraft when DoD forces have a reasonable belief that the vehicle or watercraft poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to DoD forces. Weapons may also be fired at a moving vehicle or watercraft posing an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to non-DoD persons in the vicinity when doing so is directly related to the assigned mission.”

Pedestrians pass members of the U.S.military working to place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

A Pentagon spokesman told Newsweek that despite language in the guidelines authorizing soldiers to act in defense of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) personnel if they were attacked by migrants seeking to cross the border, they have never been “requested to do so” by CBP.

One former military officer who discussed the issue with Newsweek , David Lapan, noted the similarities between the authorization given to soldiers to shoot at moving vehicles on the border, and authorization for similar actions in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, where the main threat was vehicles rigged with explosives.

“Not everybody who’s deployed to the border has been in combat but there’s probably a good chance some of them have served in Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria where a vehicle-borne IED is a threat and where the escalation of force procedures have been developed and deployed and trained to over the years,” he told the magazine. “Now, you potentially have active-duty forces who have been given the authority to engage moving vehicles. Do they still have the mindset that they had when they were in Iraq or Afghanistan?”

In other words, soldiers deployed on the US-Mexico border are being given orders that effectively treat migrants fleeing repression and violence in Central America as though they were members of the Taliban, ISIS or Al Qaeda.

The documents also indicate that soldiers deployed to the border have been exempted from rules that required “no contact with migrants” during their operations. These rules were previously cited by the Trump administration as assuring that soldiers would not actually perform the same work as Border Patrol agents, which would violate the Posse Comitatus Law, which prohibits the uniformed military from performing police functions.

The border deployment has been extended by the Pentagon at least through the end of the current fiscal year, September 30, 2020.

There were other horrific developments this week in the ongoing war of US government agencies against defenseless migrants and refugees: