To protect the Constitution under a Trump presidency, the U.S. military must refuse any orders to torture.
We the undersigned have devoted a substantial part of our professional lives to studying, writing, and teaching about American civil-military relations.
We have many disagreements among ourselves on a range of important topics. In particular, we have strong and principled disagreements about politics. We have in the past, and will likely continue, to vote for different candidates for president.
But we all agree on one important matter: if any president orders the U.S. military to commit war crimes, the U.S. military will be legally and professionally obliged to refuse to carry out those orders. Moreover, we believe the U.S. military will, in fact, resist such orders. Refusing to implement them will not be a violation of civilian control of the military. Refusing to carry out such orders will protect the rule of law and the constitutional order, of which civilian control of the military is fundamental.
In the current campaign, one leading candidate, Donald Trump, has repeatedly insisted that he will direct the military to take steps that every reputable legal expert we know has deemed illegal: targeting the families of terrorists and other civilians not directly involved in hostilities for lethal military strikes, and torturing suspected terrorists and their families.
If Donald Trump becomes president and carries through with these campaign promises, the U.S. military will be obliged to refuse these orders.
Let us be clear. Here we are only talking about illegal orders. All candidates for president make campaign promises that are legal but may or may not be wise. We are not suggesting that the U.S. military leaders should or will refuse orders they deem unwise, if those orders are otherwise legal.
We recognize that the United States has a strong record of civilian control of the military. That record depends on senior military leaders understanding and fulfilling their obligations under the law. And it depends on presidents and civilian political leaders understanding their obligations to the rule of law as well.
We call on all candidates to acknowledge these basic truths about democratic civil-military relations. And we call upon Donald Trump to cease promising to issue illegal orders to the U.S. military.
Andrew J. Bacevich
Mitchell B. Reiss
Stephen Peter Rosen
David R. Segal
Stephen Van Evera
John Allen Williams
Photo Credit: Scott Olson / Staff