In the Thursday night playground fight,Teflon Don said “the military will follow whatever orders I give them” (that is a paraphrase).He was of course referring to things he had said about torture, et cetera. And of course he would be Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces if elected, and they would have to follow orders. (Where have we heard that before?). But, that’s right isn’t it?
Hold everything. Not quite.
The UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), which is written by congress and signed into law by the President, just like civilian laws, doesn’t say that. In fact it says (as do a lot of civilian laws now, after the Bush Baby years and the flouting of international conventions) that some things, like torture, are illegal. Also, the UCMJ makes things like humiliating prisoners and desecrating body’s of dead enemy combatants and so on and so forth, specifically illegal and subject to prosecution under the code.
What all of this means is Teflon Don can order all he wants, even order illegal acts, but the military not only does not “have to” obey them, the UCMJ makes it a crime to willingly carry out an order that the person subject to the UCMJ knows or has reason to believe is illegal. It also makes it illegal to issue such an order to subordinates, or to take punitive action against anyone who refuses to carry out an order he or she knows to be illegal.
But wait! Doesn’t the soldier/sailor/marine/airman swear an oath to obey the Commander In Chief? No matter what?
Not quite. Yes, you are expected to obey an order even if you don’t like it, or it doesn’t make sense to you. Or you are momentarily unaware of the reason for the order.
For instance, once ( really more than once) while the writer (third person for I) was at Ft. Gordon Georgia many,many years ago, one day our company commander decided he would personally take the column of about 300 male soldiers (I know it was a very big Company) on the afternoon march back to the Signal School. When about 1/4 mile from our destination the writer (me) heard his distinct booming order “Eyes…RIGHT”.
Why, I wondered, were we being given an order that was typically given when marching in a parade formation and passing by the reviewing stand?
The answer soon presented itself-or perhaps I should say herself-in the shape of a young SP4 clerk on her way from one part of the campus to another, and distinctly red of face. (In those days they were all sort of generically Called WACs, for Women’s Army Corp, unless they were Nurses in which case they were referred to as-you guessed it-nurses. WAC was eliminated quite a long time ago). This order would today probably be in contravention of the UCMJ (and I can assure you if that were the case our CO would not give the order-he was a stickler). But in those days it was perfectly legal. It happened 2 more times and he was called on the carpet and told to stop. And he did.
Next point is that all military and naval personnel swear an oath to obey the president, don’t they?
The answer is yes, they do and in fact that is even in printed form and not just in the ‘raise your right hand” swearing in. But there is a little catch. Actually a big catch.
You only swear to obey lawful orders.
And that is a dual catch here, because the United States is a signatory to the Geneva Accords making most of what Mr. Trump has said he would do illegal, and Congress finally got around to passing our own laws making all that nice stuff like torture illegal. Therefore it would be an unlawful order and all of the generals and all of the generals men and women could legally say “stuff it”.
Issuing orders like that would fall under High Crimes and Misdemeanors. (When the Bush Baby did it, it was not specified in the U.S. Code, though they still could have gone after him. International Court of Justice had no jurisdiction because the U.S. has never signed on, recognizing any Jurisdiction of the court. If it had quite a few Bush administration officials would be in jail cells in Brussels awaiting trial. Quite a downfall eh Dickey? Rummy?
Presumably even giving such orders, even if they were refused by the military and the CIA would be grounds for impeachment.
I do have to admit it has been quite a few years since my last indoctrination class on the UCMJ, but for the most part it has been expanded by congress to encompass more of todays issues, especially when we are fighting in parts of the world where our western values and customs don’t fit quite so easily as they did in, oh WW II Europe. The wars in Korea and Vietnam started waking people up, as did posting millions of personnel in Europe during the Cold War (cultural differences there, too).
But I remember enough of the UCMJ to feel on safe ground even though I am not a lawyer. But I swore that oath at least eight different times over the years (about ten years total) and I remember quite well I only had to obey “lawful” orders.
A final word to Donny Boy. Being President and Commander in chief does not forgive stupidity. And you are stupid if you believe you can just start issuing orders and all the peons-especially the military ones-have to kow-tow and obey your every whim. You do not rule by fiat. In fact, you do not rule. You govern. At least Sanders and Clinton know that from the start and don’t need months of preparatory lessons.
And one more final word, to that young lady Spec at Ft Gordon, (in the unlikely event she sees this) although you were awfully cute, if I hadf been leading that column that day (or the 2 other times he did it) I would not have ordered eyes right even if I had wanted to. And I understand how acutely uncomfortable it made you. So, sorry bout that, and the Captain deserved the chewing out he got. Even if it was, at the time a lawful order.