The commander of the U.S. nuclear force ignited controversy when he said Saturday that he would not follow an illegal order from the president.
U.S. Strategic Command commander Air Force Gen. John Hyten was asked during the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia what he would do if he was asked to do something that was illegal.
Hyten responded that military officers study the law of armed conflict, which has certain principles they must abide by.
“If you execute an unlawful order, you can go to jail, and you could go to jail for the rest of your life,” he said. “It’s not that difficult.”
He said if he were given an illegal order from the president in regards to a nuclear strike, he would suggest something within the legal boundaries.
“The way the process works is it’s simple. I provide advice to the president. He’ll tell me what to do, and if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ Guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options of a mix of capabilities to respond whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated,” he said.
Many interpreted Hyten’s remarks as suggesting he would resist a nuclear order from President Trump, and that they showed a lack of trust in the president.
A U.S. Strategic Command spokeswoman called that view “a gross misrepresentation of what he said” and “very misleading.”
“If you watch the panel comments, it speaks for itself. But most people don’t take the time … to go actually see what the source said,” Stratcom spokeswoman Julie Zeigenhorn told Breitbart News.
Some experts also pushed back against the misrepresentation of Hyten’s remarks.
I think many are reading way too much reassurance into Gen Hyten’s remarks. (1) Very few, if any, nuclear launch orders would be clearly “illegal” and (2) Hyten suggested that if he thought it was, he would find a way to execute a “legal version” anyway https://t.co/WVCIQrZsfM
— Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) November 19, 2017
No 👏 It's 👏 Not 👏 For the last time, no it's not. An audience member asked what he would do if he received an "illegal order." Of course, he said he wouldn't follow it. Highly normal.
This is UCMJ 101. You'd think CNN's *National Security Correspondent* would get that. https://t.co/NIEi1qDWJs
— James Hasson (@JamesHasson20) November 19, 2017
Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently pushed back against the fear-mongering that Trump alone could start a nuclear war against North Korea, explaining there is a deliberative process that includes multiple cabinet secretaries.
“The way it is set up, it is a deliberative process that involves the secretary of defense — the principal adviser to the president on these matters — the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and others in the chain of command, but also the secretary of state, the national security adviser, the director of national intelligence, the director of CIA,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour earlier this week.
“That’s the way it’s set up, and there’s a discussion and there’s an exploration of all the options on something so grave,” he said. “People have this idea that there’s a button,” he said. “There is a process, a consultative process.”
Amanpour told Carter she thought it would be a “great comfort” to people for people to hear him say that.
Watch Hyten’s full comments here: