By GENE JONES, Guest Columnist as Published by the Sarasota Herald Tribune, September 13, 2016
Veterans and military service members should carefully consider their vote for president. This election is a critical test of our nation’s commitment to the rule of law and how to best defeat ISIS.
As for defeating ISIS, ABC News reports that Donald Trump has stated that if elected, he wants a military plan in 30 days to defeat and destroy ISIS.
This mindset reflects a basic misunderstanding of ISIS and how to defeat its abominable ideology. ISIS is not a state that can be annihilated by conventional military operations. It is an extremist movement that cannot be wiped out by military action alone. In fact, crushing military operations may well spread it.
In short, the fight against ISIS is not the same as a World War II, big-battle, annihilate-the-enemy war.
An important theme in the military’s 2006 counterinsurgency operations manual is: “The more force applied the greater the chance of collateral damage and mistakes. Using substantial force also increases the opportunity for insurgent propaganda to portray lethal military activities as brutal. In contrast, using force precisely and discriminately strengthens the rule of law that needs to be established. As noted above, the key for counterinsurgents is knowing when more force is needed — and when it might be counterproductive.”
On Fox News, Donald Trump has bragged that the military won’t refuse his orders as commander in chief. Yet, to the chagrin of military leaders and legal experts, service members may be obligated to refuse Trump’s orders should he be elected president because he condones and encourages torture.
Military personnel have an obligation to disobey illegal orders under the Law of War and the Geneva and Hague Conventions, which are taught to our soldiers in their earliest days of military training.
All torture is illegal under international and U.S. law. And, as noted in the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2015 Law of War Manual: “the law of war’s prohibitions on torture and unnecessary destruction are consistent with the practical insight that such actions ultimately frustrate rather than accomplish the mission.”
By contrast, however, Trump’s positions on torture are both clear and disturbing. Despite the repudiation of the Bush Administration’s legally dubious use of waterboarding, Trump still supports it, and more.
Speaking at a South Carolina event in February, Trump was unequivocal: “waterboarding is fine, but it’s not nearly tough enough,” and, “I’d approve it immediately but I’d make it also much worse.”
Trump clearly recognizes waterboarding is torture. “Some people say it’s not actually torture, but let’s assume it is,” he said at the same event. But while he has said he would never instruct the military to break the law, to achieve his inherently conflicted goal of “approving” such torture, he would have to seek extralegal contortions that would still fly in the face of international law to which the U.S. remains a party — creating a legal and moral conflict for soldiers under his command.
Indeed, after World War II, the U.S. prosecuted Japanese military personnel as war criminals for waterboarding U.S. prisoners of war; setting a clear legal precedent that waterboarding is an illegal and punishable form of torture.
As if the legal arguments weren’t enough, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs found that waterboarding and other torture not only didn’t work in eliciting actionable intelligence or foiling terrorist plots but led to fabricated information.
Trump, learned nothing from the report. He said at the same South Carolina event, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work. Torture works, OK folks, torture works …believe me it works.”
Current and former military personnel should be the first to recognize that while Trump may sound tough by advocating these types of tactics to defeat ISIS, such ill-founded plans would fly directly in the face of established counterinsurgency doctrine. And, Trump condones torture, which is contrary to American values and the law.
These factors alone should be sufficient for war veterans to determine that Donald Trump cannot be trusted with the grave responsibilities of serving as commander in chief.
War veterans understand better than most that a failure to heed military lessons learned can be expected not only to fail, but to be counterproductive and to worsen the situation on the ground, potentially for years to come.
Gene Jones, a Sarasota resident, is president of Florida Veterans for Common Sense Inc. a nonprofit/nonpartisan veterans group formed in opposition to the Iraq invasion.
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