Donald Trump: Why the Military Can Not and Will Not Obey Your Order

(The views expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of any organization, office, or department of any government agency or any employer or other organization.)

Mr. Trump, in an interview on December 1, 2015, on Fox & Friends, stated that if he is elected President, he will order the military to kill family members of terrorists. He defended that position again during the CNN Republican Debate on December 15, 2015, at 9:36 pm ET. He has also taken the position that we must use torture methods against our enemies. Then, on the Fox News Debate on March 3, 2016 at 9:49 ET, Mr. Trump was asked what he would do if the military refused to obey his illegal order. He said, “They will not refuse.” Sir, you are wrong!

Unlike other countries, those of us who serve or have served as Officers in the US military, swore an oath that we take very seriously.[1][2] It is a sacred oath. We swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” and not an oath to support any person, leader, or Führer as is done in other countries. We love the Constitution and the principles it stands for, the freedoms it preserves for our families and people, and the liberty it protects. I personally read the Constitution through in its entirety every month and have done so for over 16 years. I read about its founding, creation, and legal opinions regarding its meaning. As military personnel, we need to know and love the Constitution.

Although the Constitution appoints the President as Commander-in-Chief, it does not grant him unlimited power. In fact, the Constitution itself allows the President to be impeached and removed for “high crimes and misdemeanors” showing that the President is not all-powerful and must remain within the limits set out by law. Anytime he violates the law, he is acting outside the authority of his office and thus outside his authority as Commander-in-Chief. Any order the President gives that violates the Constitution, our military officers and enlisted personnel are duty bound to disobey.

The Hague Convention is a treaty to which the United States is a party. It prohibits the targeting and killing of non-combatants. The United States is also a Party to the Geneva Conventions. They too prohibit torture and the killing of non-combatants. Additionally, they demand that prisoners, whether combatants or non-combatants, must be treated humanely.

Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution reads, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land;” This clause means, Mr. Trump, that any order given by you as President, that is contrary to the Treaties we have made or the laws passed by Congress, is illegal and void. The military MUST disobey any such order.

The world learned during the Nuremberg trials that “I was just following orders” is no defense to committing criminal acts. It will not become so now. If we were to start torturing prisoners and killing non-combatants, we would lose our legal and moral high ground. We would lack any moral or legal legitimacy to complain when others tortured our soldiers or killed their families or our citizens. By making the families of ISIS terrorists targets for killing, you give legitimacy to ISIS in the targeting of the families of our military forces.

I understand the frustration of our troops. I have seen it over and over again as I gave briefings on the Law of Armed Conflict. They would ask, “Why should we obey LOAC when the enemy does not?” The answer is simple. We are not them! We are Americans! We have higher moral principles. We can still accomplish our mission and win this conflict while maintaining the very moral foundations of who we are and without giving in to the anger and frustrations put upon us by the enemy. To say otherwise is to deny the greatness of our Country and our military forces. We act according to laws, morals, and principles. We refuse to allow others to force us to act contrary to those laws, morals, and principles. If we succumb to the enemy’s methods and forsake our principles and morals, we give them the victory over us! That cannot be allowed to happen!

By heeding your call to kill the families of terrorists and to torture our prisoners (and they are prisoners, whether you call them detainees, prisoners of war, unlawful combatants, etc. – a rose is a rose even if called by another name), then we accept what was done in Germany and Japan during World War II. We must then overturn the verdicts at Nuremberg and Tokyo and announce to the world that we were wrong and those evil men were right. I for one will not stand for that.

Should you become President, sir, our military officers and troops must disobey any illegal order you give to kill non-combatants or to torture prisoners. Our Officers need to maintain the integrity they have had in the past to refuse to obey illegal orders and have the courage to resign, as others before them have done, when they disagreed with the orders they were given. Once the military agrees to follow illegal orders of the type you are proposing, our Republic is lost, the Constitution destroyed, and our country ripe for takeover by a military junta or coup. That must never happen. The course you propose sir, is detrimental to the very existence of our Nation.


[1] The Officer Oath is as follows: “I, (state your name), having been appointed a (rank) in the United States (branch of service), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the office upon which I am about to enter. So help me God”

[2] Enlisted troops take a similar oath. It reads, “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” Although this oath requires that they obey the orders of the President of the United States, it limits that duty only to obey those orders that are issued according to regulations and the UCMJ. The UCMJ prohibits our troops from complying with unlawful orders such as participating in torture or killing non-combatants.



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