Every American serving in the military starts their journey with an oath of enlistment or office in which these words are prominent: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” American military members share a special pride in the fact that we do not swear an oath to a person, but to the Constitution and its ideals. If Trump is elected, we are in great danger of a Constitutional crisis, as this revered oath is put to the test.
When, as he promises he will, “President Trump” orders the military to kill non-combatant women and children family members of suspected terrorists or to torture captives, as he stated on Feb. 6 in New Hampshire, where he assured America that he will “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” we will enter a new and dangerous relationship between an American Commander-in-Chief and the military.
No military member could legally execute orders to intentionally kill non-combatant relatives of terrorists. Nor could they carry out any type of torture, especially torture that meets Trump’s imagination for a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding. Not only are those acts war crimes, but Trump’s order would not be a lawful order and, as required by the Uniform Code of Military Conduct (UCMJ), must be disobeyed by the military. The Constitution, the UCMJ, and decades of court rulings support the precedent that every service member has an obligation to disobey orders not aligned with the Constitution and law.
The Constitution and supporting laws and court decisions clearly ban torture and killing of non-combatants; and, America has ratified three treaties protecting against these types of war crimes. Those treaties are part of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution and directly applicable to military members. If Mr. Trump is true to his word, as he continually tells us he is, his election as President of the United States, along with his most important role as Commander-in-Chief, will almost surely lead to a clash between the White House and the Pentagon.
No man is bigger than the Constitution — our last line of hope to preserve our national values may be our men and women in uniform who remain true to their oath of defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and DOMESTIC.
Dr. James Curtis is a professor of Public Policy and Cybersecurity and a retired Air Force Officer who served in the White House under Presidents Bush (41) and Clinton.