Just Following Orders

John Kelly testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 6, 2017. (Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
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February 13, 2020 10:39 a.m.

There’s far too much water under the bridge for me to consider John Kelly a good guy. But even deeply compromised individuals have their limits. The point he makes here about the Alex Vindman situation is right on point and cuts to the core of our national crisis. As Kelly reminds us officers are trained from the beginning and throughout their career not to follow illegal orders and to report them when they occur through their chain of command. “We teach them, ‘Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.’”

Certainly this indoctrination is followed too often in the breach. But that is the model that our professional military is based on. They may not have been orders per se but it is the same ethos that led most or all Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher’s fellow soldiers to report him for war crimes.

This is precisely what Vindman did. He did not go to the press, which might have been morally justified but not prescribed by military training. Vindman saw something he believed was illegal and reported it to White House lawyers. That is precisely what they’re trained to do.

Later, he received a congressional subpoena to provided testimony and he complied with that subpoena, which is literally what you are supposed to do and indeed must do. We are far into the legal-moral wilderness in which we now seem to see subpoenas as suggestions or requests.

The idea that he would face reprisals over his actions is simply grotesque. But grotesquery is the unifying theme of President Trump’s presidency.

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