The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) makes it a crime for retired military officers to use “contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Governor or legislature of any State…” making them subject to military judicial or disciplinary action.
However, there has been scant precedent for bringing retirees back on active duty for either judicial or non-judicial punishment.
In the case of retired flag officers, the only recorded instance is that of retired Navy Admiral Selden Hooper in the 50s. The case against Hooper was not for “illegal” political activity or for using “contemptuous words,” but rather for “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman—in other words, for being homosexual.”
Fast forward to August 2018 when retired Admiral William H. McRaven, former head of U.S. Special Operations Command and the patriot who oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, penned a harshly critical letter to Trump in the Washington Post in response to Trump’s scurrilous and vindictive decision to revoke former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance, because of Brennan’s criticism of Trump.
In the letter, McRaven said, “Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.” McRaven added “Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”
That was not the first time that McRaven criticized Trump. In February 2017, the retired admiral slammed Trump for characterizing the media as “the enemy of the American people,” adding, “This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”
Many former CIA and senior intelligence officers have joined McRaven and others in condemning Trump’s actions.
But there are also many who have criticized McRaven for his open and frank criticism of Trump.
Writing at Defenseone.com, Navy Captain Michael Junge, called McRaven’s words a “full-throated, contemptuous condemnation…” of the commander-in-chief, pointing out that McRaven, though retired, remains “bound by” the UCMJ.
Claiming that McRaven has “violated the standards of the profession,” Junge writes that then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis could, “as a matter of law, recall Admiral McRaven and court-martial him for violations of the UCMJ including Article 88 (Contempt towards officials), Article 104 (Aiding the enemy), Article 117 (Provoking Speech of gestures), or Article 133 (Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman).”
Citing the above-mentioned Adm. Selden Hooper case and other factors, Junger admits that it may not be advisable or realistic to recall McRaven to face military discipline.
What is significant and a sign of how this president has trampled the Constitution, which officers such as McRaven have sworn to defend and support, is that the same man – Jim Mattis, a retired U.S. Marine General– upon whom Junge was relying just one year ago to discipline McRaven, is now himself publicly speaking out against this corrupt president – albeit not as bluntly as McRaven and as so many other have done and are increasingly doing.
In a speech at the 74th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York last week, Mattis, first jokingly, then dead-seriously, took aim at Trump.
After mocking Trump for earning his spurs “in a letter from a doctor,” and for calling Mattis “the world’s most overrated general,” Mattis alluded to Trump’s betrayal of our Kurdish allies. “We owe a debt to all who fought for liberty, including those who tonight serve in the far corners of our planet, among them the American men and women supporting our Kurdish allies…” he said.
Finally, referring to Abraham Lincoln who said the United States is less likely to crumble from outside aggression than from corrosion from within, Mattis bemoaned our state of politics, conduct and language, saying, “Anarchy is one potential consequence of all this. The other is the rise of an ambitious leader, unfettered by conscience, or precedent or decency, who would make himself supreme “
I seriously doubt Mattis would have taken any action against McRaven for speaking his love of country and Constitution in 2017, 2018 or last week when McRaven once again spoke his conscience and truth to power in another op-ed, this time at the New York Times.
While attending two military “memorable events,” McRaven was struck by “the stark contrast between the words and deeds heralded at those events — and the words and deeds emanating from the White House.”
Beneath the outward sense of hope and duty that McRaven witnessed at those two events, “there was an underlying current of frustration, humiliation, anger and fear that echoed across the sidelines. The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within,” McRaven writes.
Referring to values such as duty, honor and keeping promises, McRaven concludes:
And if this president doesn’t understand [the importance of these values], if this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office — Republican, Democrat or independent — the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.
Do retired Admiral McRaven’s words, and those of many other highly decorated retired military officers critical of Trump represent “Contempt towards officials,” “Aiding the enemy” or “Provoking Speech or gestures”? You decide.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.