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Don’t Wait Until The Trump Administration Gives An Illegal Order To Think About How You’ll Respond
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump spoke somewhat disturbingly about waterboarding, saying, ”I love it, I think it’s great. And I said the only thing is, we should make it much tougher than waterboarding, and if you don’t think it works, folks, you’re wrong.” Though Trump himself has backed off those words, Vice President-elect Mike Pence wants the administration’s opinion to be ambiguous. “We're going to have a president again who will never say what we'll never do,” Pence said. That ambiguity, deliberate or not, may create a tactical advantage for the United States, but it surrenders the nation’s moral advantage.
So, we are left to wonder how much of Trump’s campaign comments, such as promising to kill the families of terrorists, are just rhetoric. At the time, Trump said,”They won’t refuse [to carry out unlawful orders]. They’re not going to refuse me,” he said. “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.” He later walked back those comments, saying that the U.S. is “bound by laws and treaties.” and that “I will not order a military officer to break the law.”
But since the vice president-elect has just made it clear that nothing is off the table, it’s perhaps appropriate for service members to ask themselves what they will do if the administration does order military personnel to break the law. What are you prepared to do? What are you willing to be an accessory to? To live with? Most importantly, what consequences, if any, are you prepared to face for your convictions?
Torture is a violation of U.S. and international law, as is the intentional targeting of noncombatants. That means that irrespective of one’s personal opinions about such acts’ effectiveness, performing them makes one culpable. Whether or not you think it justified is irrelevant. It is undoubtedly criminal.
Since the U.S. is not a signatory to the agreement establishing the International Criminal Court, our own government would provide the only real enforcement of these laws. In other words, the only oversight or threat of sanction comes from the executive branch, i.e., the same branch that might be ordering “a helluva lot worse than waterboarding,” among other things.
The Bush administration redefined “unlawful combatant” and “torture” to facilitate practices that the administration thought would be effective. The Trump administration could redefine “noncombatant” similarly, to allow killing the relatives of terrorists. While the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act restricts interrogations to those practices contained within the U.S. Army Field Manual, that still allows for sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation. And it does not address the practice of extraordinary rendition, i.e., outsourcing torture to states that allow it.
Some, perhaps most, of these questionable or illegal acts would be handled by parts of the government that service members generally don’t see much of, such as the CIA. But military personnel may have to confront these issues, should the Trump administration’s ambiguity be more than campaign rhetoric.
When orders to violate the laws of armed conflict are given, they don’t come with letters signed by a commander, notifying service members that they are violating a law and asking them to sign at the bottom to acknowledge that fact before carrying out the order.
If you get such orders, and you’re very lucky, perhaps you’ll have the chance to consult with a military lawyer or discuss the matter with your commander, although undoubtedly an elaborate legal camouflage will exist to justify whatever questionable action is being ordered. Military lawyers and the chain of command alike would probably fall in behind the legal opinions of the White House Counsel, as they did during the Bush Administration. Failure to follow orders to participate in torture or kill noncombatants might have significant career and legal penalties, even if those orders were considered illegal right up until the day they were issued.
We may never know how many troops faced crises of conscience in regards to their treatment of prisoners, but as an example, a Navy nurse faced possible court martial, administrative discharge, and loss of his security clearance after refusing to force feed detainees held at Guantanamo. Only after the medical community at large spoke up in favor of the nurse were these proceedings dropped, after two years of investigation.
While force feeding detainees does not rise to the level of torture, the incident demonstrates the importance of individuals knowing and considering the legal and moral dilemmas they might be confronted with. That means that servicemembers must know their rules of engagement, know their detainee handling procedures, and actually pay attention to those Law of Armed Conflict briefs prior to deployments. The individual service member is the last line of defense against the U.S. committing war crimes.
If you’re serving in the military today, you’d better have prepared your answers for the questions about what you’re willing or not willing to do, especially if you’re in a leadership position, where you’ll be de facto answering for many others. There are many militaries throughout history that abdicated, both individually and collectively, their responsibilities to have those answers, with tragic results. The incoming administration seems likely to give our military a test on all of them.
Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.
On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.
Fatal training accidents are on the rise. Now the families of the fallen are pushing lawmakers to do something about it
CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.
Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.
Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.
Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.
"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."
While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.
"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."
North Korea threatens to resume nuclear weapons and ICBM tests if US-South Korea military exercises proceed
SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.
Customs and Border Patrol denied a Marine vet entry into the US for his a scheduled citizenship interview
A deported Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to come back to the U.S. for more than a decade was denied entry to the country Monday morning when he asked to be let in for a scheduled citizenship interview.
Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.
Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.