A Duty to Disobey All Unlawful Orders


Lawrence Mosqueda, Ph.D
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, WA 98505
mosqueda evergreen.edu

February 26, 2003

 

DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL LAW

As the United States government under George Bush gets closer to attacking the people of Iraq, there are several things that the men and women of the U.S. armed forces need to know and bear in mind as they are given orders from the Bush administration. This information is provided for the use of the members of the armed forces, their families, friends and supporters, and all who are concerned about the current direction of U.S. policy toward Iraq.

The military oath taken at the time of induction reads:

"I,____________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God"

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) 809.ART.90 (20), makes it clear that military personnel need to obey the "lawful command of his superior officer," 891.ART.91 (2), the "lawful order of a warrant officer", 892.ART.92 (1) the "lawful general order", 892.ART.92 (2) "lawful order". In each case, military personnel have an obligation and a duty to only obey Lawful orders and indeed have an obligation to disobey Unlawful orders, including orders by the president that do not comply with the UCMJ. The moral and legal obligation is to the U.S. Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders, especially if those orders are in direct violation of the Constitution and the UCMJ.

During the Iran-Contra hearings of 1987, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a decorated World War II veteran and hero, told Lt. Col. Oliver North that North was breaking his oath when he blindly followed the commands of Ronald Reagan. As Inouye stated, "The uniform code makes it abundantly clear that it must be the Lawful orders of a superior officer. In fact it says, 'Members of the military have an obligation to disobey unlawful orders.' This principle was considered so important that we-we, the government of the United States, proposed that it be internationally applied in the Nuremberg trials." (Bill Moyers, "The Secret Government", Seven Locks Press; also in the PBS 1987 documentary, "The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis")

Senator Inouye was referring to the Nuremberg trials in the post WW II era, when the U.S. tried Nazi war criminals and did not allow them to use the reason or excuse that they were only "following orders" as a defense for their war crimes which resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent men, women, and children. "In 1953, the Department of Defense adopted the principles of the Nuremberg Code as official policy" of the United States. (Hasting Center Report, March-April 1991) Over the past year there have been literally thousands of articles written about the impact of the coming war with Iraq. Many are based on politics and the wisdom of engaging in an international war against a country that has not attacked the U.S. and the legality of engaging in what Bush and Rumsfield call "preemptive war." World opinion at the highest levels, and among the general population, is that a U.S. first strike on Iraq would be wrong, both politically and morally. There is also considerable evidence that Bush's plans are fundamentally illegal, from both an international and domestic perspective. If the war is indeed illegal, members of the armed forces have a legal and moral obligation to resist illegal orders, according to their oath of induction.

The evidence from an international perspective is overwhelming. The United States Constitution makes treaties that are signed by the government equivalent to the "law of the land" itself, Article VI, para. 2. Among the international laws and treaties that a U.S. pre-emptive attack on Iraq may violate are: 

The Hague Convention on Land Warfare of 1899, which was reaffirmed by the U.S. at the 1946 Nuremberg International Military Tribunals; 

Resolution on the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons and Prevention of Nuclear War, adopted UN General Assembly, Dec 12, 1980;

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; December 9, 1948, Adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the UN General Assembly;

Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Adopted on August 12, 1949 by the Diplomatic Conference for the Establishment of International Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War;

Convention on the Prohibition of Military or any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, 1108 U.N.T.S. 151, Oct. 5, 1978; The Charter of the United Nations;

The Nuremberg Principles, which define as a crime against peace, "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for accomplishment of any of the forgoing." (For many of these treaties and others, see the Yale Avalon project.   Also see a letter to Canadian soldiers sent by Hamilton Action for Social Change).   at )

As Hamilton Action for Social Change has noted "Under the Nuremberg Principles, you have an obligation NOT to follow the orders of leaders who are preparing crimes against peace and crimes against humanity. We are all bound by what U.S. Chief Prosecutor Robert K. Jackson declared in 1948: [T]he very essence of the [Nuremberg] Charter is that individuals have intentional duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state." At the Tokyo War Crimes trial, it was further declared "[A]nyone with knowledge of illegal activity and an opportunity to do something about it is a potential criminal under international law unless the person takes affirmative measures to prevent commission of the crimes."

The outcry about the coming war with Iraq is also overwhelming from legal experts who have studied this in great detail. By November of 2002, 315 law professors had signed a statement entitled "A US War Against Iraq Will Violate US and International Law and Set a Dangerous Precedent for Violence That Will Endanger the American People." (See the full statement).

Other legal organizations such as the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy and the Western States Legal Foundation have written more extensive reports, such as that by Andrew Lichterman and John Burroughs on "War is Not the Path to Peace; The United States, Iraq, and the Need for Stronger International Legal Standards to Prevent War." As the report indicates "Aggressive war is one of the most serious transgressions of international law." In fact, at the Nuremberg trials, the issue was not just individual or collective acts of atrocities or brutal actions but the starting of an aggressive war itself. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Jackson stated, "We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of the causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy." (August 12, 1945, Department of State Bulletin. See The Lichterman and Burroughs Report)

In another report written by the same authors and also by Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, New York, and Jules Lobel, Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh entitled "The United Nations Charter and the Use of Force Against Iraq," the authors note that:

"Under the UN Charter, there are only two circumstances in which the use of force is permissible: in collective or individual self-defense against an actual or imminent armed attack: and when the Security Council has directed or authorized use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security. Neither of those circumstances now exists. Absent one of them, U.S. use of force against Iraq is unlawful."

The authors were specifically referring to Article 51 of the UN Charter on the right to self-defense. Nothing that Iraq has done would call that provision into effect. The report also states that: "There is no basis in international law for dramatically expanding the concept of self-defense, as advocated in the Bush Administration's September, 2002 "National Security Strategy" to authorize "preemptive" - really preventive - strikes against states based on potential threats arising from possession or development of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons and links to terrorism. Such an expansion would destabilize the present system of UN Charter restraints on the use of force. Further, there is no claim or publicly disclosed evidence that Iraq is supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorist.

 

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