Vote for Presidential Debate Question: Torture

The Commission on Presidential Debates is asking people to vote on questions to ask Clinton and Trump. We have proposed a question relating to the limits on the kinds of orders which a president can issue as commander-in-chief.

When should the generals refuse a direct order from the president?
Can the military disobey an order from the president if they believed a preemptive strike requires Congressional authorization or an interrogation technique violates the Geneva convention?

Vote here.

We believe this question is especially relevant since Donald Trump insisted at the Fox News Debate last March that he can bully the generals into following illegal orders.

FOX HOST BRET BAIER: Mr. Trump, just yesterday, almost 100 foreign policy experts signed on to an open letter refusing to support you, saying your embracing expansive use of torture is inexcusable. General Michael Hayden, former CIA director, NSA director, and other experts have said that when you asked the U.S. military to carry out some of your campaign promises, specifically targeting terrorists’ families, and also the use of interrogation methods more extreme than waterboarding, the military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders.

So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?

DONALD TRUMP: They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.

BAIER: But they’re illegal.

TRUMP: Let me just tell you, you look at the Middle East. They’re chopping off heads. They’re chopping off the heads of Christians and anybody else that happens to be in the way. They’re drowning people in steel cages. And he — now we’re talking about waterboarding.

This really started with Ted, a question was asked of Ted last — two debates ago about waterboarding. And Ted was, you know, having a hard time with that question, to be totally honest with you. They then came to me, what do you think of waterboarding? I said it’s fine. And if we want to go stronger, I’d go stronger, too, because, frankly that’s the way I feel. Can you imagine — can you imagine these people, these animals over in the Middle East, that chop off heads, sitting around talking and seeing that we’re having a hard problem with waterboarding? We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding. That’s my opinion.

BAIER: But targeting terrorists’ families?

TRUMP: And — and — and — I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.


Similarly, Trump promised to attack the Iranian navy if their soldiers make rude gestures.

And, by the way, with Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people, that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.

Perhaps a reasoned discussion of the limits of presidential authority are in order before we get to a constitutional crisis where our military leaders have to choose to follow their commander-in-chief or the law. Heaven help us if they disagree on what to choose.

The moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz have agreed to consider the most popular questions, so please vote. Consider it practice for November 8.

PA Veterans Find Trump’s Remarks Offensive

Ahead of Donald Trump’s event in Mechanicsburg on Monday, Pennsylvania veterans condemned Trump’s offensive remarks and called on Trump to apologize to a Gold Star family he personally attacked multiple times over the weekend.

Donald Trump has attacked the US Armed Forces repeatedly: Calling it weak and ineffective, accusing our soldiers of stealing reconstruction money from Iraq, and denouncing prisoners of war for being captured.

Congressman Chris Carney, a former Commander in the United States Navy Reserve:

Folks like me who have served this country honorably for many years are absolutely disgusted at Donald Trump and what he said about those who have sacrificed for this country. It is clear Trump has neither the temperament nor the experience to be Commander-in-Chief and to lead the forces of the United States – especially when we have such complex issues bedeviling the country and the world right now. It is unfathomable that a man like that would want to sacrifice the honor of the military for his ego. Anybody who looks at this objectively will realize that Donald Trump is as hollow as it gets when it comes to being Commander-in-Chief.

Donald Trump has called for the military to violate the Geneva Convention’s ban on torture and conduct reprisal killings of the family members of enemy soldiers and terrorists: “We’re going to have to do things that are unthinkable.”

However, as retired Army Major General Gale Pollock pointed out, our soldiers have all taken an oath to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and are required to refuse illegal orders.

We asked Pollock what protocol troops and officers are trained to follow if they are given an illegal order. She responded that you are supposed to raise the issue with the person who gave the order and explain why you believe the order to be illegal. If this does not solve the problem, then the issue must be brought up the chain of command. This is why the question of illegal orders issued by the commander-in-chief is especially problematic. To whom could our military appeal to countermand such illegal orders? This would raise the specter of a constitutional military-civil crisis where our military leaders were forced for the first time in US history to ignore the orders of its civilian leadership.

“After 36 years in the Army, I believe very strongly in the values we share in the military. Loyalty duty, respect, selfless-service, honor, integrity, and personal courage,” said I think we have seen a trend of the military being insulted, whether it’s our prisoners of war, men who sacrificed their lives, or veterans. I am just really troubled by this, and I think it’s important we recognize that these behaviors, these accusations are unacceptable for a leader in America. Pennsylvanians respect the men and women who serve. And I would hope that many of us would be offended by the continued insults against our military that Mr. Trump has offered.


Last week, Mr. Khizr Khan the father of a Muslim American war hero gave a moving speech at the Democratic National Convention. He also called out Donald Trump’s offensive and divisive religious discrimination that would have prevented their son – an Army captain who gave his life to save other soldiers in his unit – from even entering the United States of America.

Fmr. Navy Lt. Commander Manan Trivedi was the battalion surgeon with the first units to cross the Iraq border in 2003.

Frankly, I find Donald Trumps latest rhetoric disgusting, disgraceful and reprehensible towards veterans. It’s just one more piece of proof that he lacks any kind of judgement to be our Commander-in-Chief. Unfortunately, I have seen first hand the ultimate sacrifice that people like Captain Khan and so many others have made. For Donald Trump to denigrate his family and service is beyond the pale.

For him to attack a mother who is still grieving for her son. It’s shameful.

This is not the first time for Trump. Remember his comments about Senator John McCain. Time and time again, Trump has insulted our veterans, and our men and women in uniform deserve better.

Meanwhile, Trump’s most vitriolic supporters are praising him for refusing to apologize to the Khans including Trump’s advisor Roger Stone who called Khizr Khan a “Muslim Brotherhood agent”. Similarly, the white nationalist video blogger Ramzpaul and the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer spouts hatred:

So, an Islamic terrorist from Pakistan infiltrates the US military, with the intent of getting high-quality training to use in his jihad against Whites, and also perhaps for the purpose of sabotage, and accidentally gets his dumbass killed.

And now, the Jews tell us we’re supposed to celebrate him as a hero? Just because he’s dead? […]

I am hereby calling for the Khan family to be immediately deported to Pakistan. What’s more, I want their terrorist son’s body dug up and shipped back with them.

This terrorist filth has no more right to rot in our ground than he had to walk on it.

Trump’s comments on the Khan family are the latest in a series of his disrespectful rhetoric and record aimed at American veterans and military families such as lying about donations to veterans’ charities, firing employees because of their military service and verbally attacking prisoners of war.

What Does Normal Feel Like


Christopher Durang’s Why Torture is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them

New City Stage Company’s 2011-2012 season began on December 10th at the Adrienne Theatre Main Stage with a Philadelphia premiere of Christopher Durang’s satire Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, directed by Michael K. Brophy.   The play is part of season called The Terror Within, a body of work that considers political and ethical questions posed a decade after 9/11.  What does it mean to live in a world of terrorists?  

More after the jump.

Why Torture is Wrong is a fast-paced comedy/tragedy about America’s ongoing “war on terror.”  A young woman, Felicity (played beautifully by Ginger Dayle, the founder and Producing Artistic Director of New City Stage) wakes up to a strange man, Zamir (perfectly cast Sam Henderson) – to discover that at a drunken evening at Hooters she married this would-be terrorist, or alcoholic or man on parole.  Seeking comfort at her parents New Jersey home, we encounter her crazy mother Luella (played magnificently by Marcia Saunders) and her alleged butterfly raising Republican, Jane Fonda hating Father, Leonard (played by Paul L. Nolan).   Durang doesn’t stop there but pushes us to a dark place where our fears of the sociopath next door make us squirm in our seats.  

The play deftly explores how political issues like terrorism and torture get played out in the private space of home.   At one point, Luella puts down her needlepoint and retreats to the kitchen to make French toast: You can postpone angry exchanges until your stomach is nice and full.   Leonard, who we learn is involved in a Shadow Government plot to overthrow terrorists – wants to rename French toast Freedom Toast.  Head to the Adrienne if only to meet the “porn again” Revered Mike in a superb performance by Russ Widdall and Hidegarde, aka Scooby Doo, played by Sonja Robson, and The Voice, played by Ed Swidey.  The acting and pacing of this production are spot-on.  The sets, designed by S. Corey Palmer also deserve mention, as they are understated and effective.  

Durang, who currently co-chairs with Marsha Norman, the Playwriting Program at the Juillard School, has a large body of work which have received Tony nominations and Obie awards, including A History of the American Film, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, and Durang/Durang.    

In an otherwise provocative two hours of theatre, the final scene seems to want to end on a lighter, sweeter, more hopeful note than the previous 90 minutes we’ve spent with these zany, lost, disturbed characters who “identify with bullies.”  In the final scene, Felicity returns to the scene of the crime at Hooters, in an effort to reverse time.  This is part of the play’s clever internal commentary about the theatre itself, linear time, and “unspeakable things that happen at night.”    Luella says: “I go to the theatre to learn what normal is.”   Durang’s play asks us to consider what is normal is a post 9/11 world.  

The play runs through January 8th.
Adrienne Theatre Main Stage
2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA