It was during the second day of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas when our training instructor taught us about the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He quipped just before starting that, until this particular lesson, we could have gotten away with just about anything since we didn’t know the military’s version of the law. There was a lot to learn, memorize and live by after that lesson. Thirty-two years after leaving the military, I still remember Article 92 of the UCMJ, failure to obey an order or regulation. 

Twice in my eight-year career, knowing Article 92, I refused to obey a direct order. In the first instance, I believed that obeying the order would improperly endanger people and our mission. In the second instance the order I had been given was directly contradicted by an order from a more senior officer. In both cases I had to trust both my judgment, the chain of command, my fellow airmen and the system. In both cases that trust was well placed. 

On Sunday, Nov. 24, the defense secretary fired the Navy secretary for refusing to quash a hearing that would determine whether a Navy SEAL, convicted of a war crime, would get to keep his status. The SEAL’s case had caught the attention of the media, especially FOX News, and President Trump, who tweeted that the Navy will “NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business.” Gallagher had been convicted of posing with the dead body of a teenage ISIS militant, whom he had killed with a knife. His own colleagues had reported him for shooting at civilians and murdering the militant. He was acquitted of those charges but convicted for posing with the body. President Trump had recently restored Gallagher’s rank which had been reduced as a result of his conviction. 

President Trump had also recently pardoned other military personnel who had been convicted of war crimes. In a tweet, Trump said “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!” No sir. We train our troops to do their jobs, following rules of engagement, bound by regulations and orders, and when necessary, judged based on the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 

Following this whole situation for a while I had wondered whether any of the military brass or civilian leadership would stand up against the president’s actions. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer did, and now he’s out. In his resignation letter, Spencer wrote “The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries. Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and time again. Unfortunately, it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline,” he continued. “I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defense the Constitution of the United States.”

Yes, the president of the United States has the power to pardon anyone, to intervene in any way he, or hopefully someday she, sees fit in military justice as commander in chief. President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, much to the chagrin of many and the approval of others. He did so, however, without disparaging the system that had convicted her for leaking classified information. 

President Trump’s constant display of disdain for the rule of law, his mocking of those with whom he disagrees, his failure to heed the good advice of those surrounding him, and his impetuous behavior are not only a danger to good order and discipline in our military, they are a danger to the very future of our nation. As members of the House of Representatives return from Thanksgiving, and consider whether they should draft and vote on articles of impeachment for the president’s other reckless behavior regarding Ukraine, they need to remember the oath they took. Even if they don’t think the Senate will convict President Trump, they need to trust the system our founders put in place for dealing with a president who may have committed abuses of power that rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors. Former secretary Spencer had it right, the rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries. President Trump does not believe that any law applies to him. Members of the House of Representatives at this moment have the only power to tell him and the world that he is wrong.

Craig Wiesner served in the U.S. Air Force as a linguist and intelligence analyst. Today he and his husband own Reach And Teach Books Toys and Gifts on 25th Avenue in San Mateo.

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(5) comments

Dirk van Ulden

Craig - as a fellow airman who also took the same basic training at Lackland AFB in 1966, I believe that from the safety of our Air Force service it was simple to comply with the USMCJ. But, when in combat, while not anticipated or even condoned, rules change. You and I have probably never faced situations that the now pardoned military personnel endured. I know several Marine combatants who under the circumstances would never consult their UCMCJ guide book but did what was appropriate for themselves and their buddies to stay alive. President Trump recognized this and let these guys off the hook. It is only those duplicitous and hypocritical brass that sit in their arm chairs and criticize combat actions like Monday-morning Quarter Backs. The President was right, the UCMCJ is subject to the situation at hand, not to be interpreted by some attorneys who are trying to make a name for themselves, and that includes the fired Secretary.

JustMike650

Craig could not agree with you more.

Great column. No more Trump.

BenToy

Also, could not agree more

As for tRUMP...hopefully the electoral college learned their lesson and/or just go by the popular vote, of which tRUMP lost...

Christopher Conway

I think Washington DC, the swamp and the military are all getting a lesson in government. Trump is the commander in chief and he is the one we voted for. All others could go pound sand and don't make final decisions. President Trump is doing everything we wanted when we voted for him. Cleaning up the swamp and putting the decision making of this country back into the hands of you and me. The voters. Trump 2020, in a landslide like 2016.

Jorg

The last time we had anything looking like a “landslide”, was when President Obama won both the popular vote and the Electoral College with a comfortable margin. Twice. Trump, on the other hand, barely made a narrow squeak in the outdated EC, and only with Russian meddling and the usual Republican tricks and voter suppression, - the extent of which we don’t know yet. And you call that “landslide”?

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