Donald Trump promised that American soldiers — at the very least — violate Articles 93, 118, and 128 of the UCMJ. Article 93 prohibits “cruelty and maltreatment,” while Articles 118 and 128 prohibit murder and assault. Moreover, soldiers who actually pull the trigger or who actually beat terrorist detainees aren’t the only ones guilty of a crime. Responsibility runs up and down the chain of command, with each officer or NCO who carried out any aspect of the unlawful order facing legal consequences.
Wholly apart from the law — which, it should be pointed out, mandates the death penalty for the most egregious war crimes — this is a matter of honor. The desire to fight the enemy and protect the innocent is imprinted in the DNA of American service-members from Day One. It’s a matter of basic morality and of human decency intrinsic to the warrior ethos. When I was in Iraq, I knew men who would refuse to fire — even though, under the laws of war, they were free to engage the enemy — if it meant endangering children. Good soldiers have died rather than kill innocents at war.
What’s more, there can be no comparison between the orders Trump intends to issue and the tragic civilian casualties that happen as a result of our drone war, air strikes, or other combat actions. Those deaths are the unfortunate consequence of targeting enemy combatants, and are the moral and legal responsibility of the terrorists who wear civilian clothes and hide behind human shields. It is morally depraved to suggest otherwise. Look men in the eye who’ve lost friends or bled on the battlefield because of their desire to fight the enemy and the enemy only and call them war criminals. I dare you.