Donald Trump advocated torture during his campaign. He even advocated targeting the families of alleged terrorists. “Task & Purpose,” a nice veterans website, discusses the legal ramifications for soldiers during a Trump administration. As the post explains, Mr. Trump argued in favor of water boarding “and a helluva lot worse than waterboarding” during the campaign. Recently, he walked his comments back a bit. But, then Mike Pence, the new Vice-President, said the administration would never discuss what it would never do. So, torture and unlawful killing may still be on the agenda. The post points out that the USA did not agree to the international agreement that created the International Criminal Court. So, the only enforcement power for a soldier refusing to obey an unlawful order would be the same executive branch that would order the torture. US military members are not subject to the International Criminal Court.
The Trump administration could redefine noncombatant to include families of terrorists. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act limits interrogations to practices found in the Army Field Manual. But, the administration could allow for “extraordinary rendition,” as the Bush administration did. That is, the Trump administration could out-source torture. But, some of these directive to interrogate with extreme methods could be directed toward the ordinary soldier. Those sorts of orders are rarely written. The average soldier might have the opportunity to consult with a JAG lawyer. One could expect the military chain-of-command to support whatever legal cover the White House offers. During the Bush Administration, the White House Legal Counsel wrote a memo authorizing torture. Most JAG lawyers would surely defer to legal opinions from some other entity. So, even if a practice were considered illegal right up to the day of some memo, it would then magically be considered lawful afterward.
I have to add as an aside, however, that many JAG lawyers were troubled by that White House memo. Many JAG lawyers would explain the difficulties involved in changing the definition of “torture” and provide pretty good counsel regarding any possible unlawful order.
One Navy nurse at Guantanamo Bay refused to force feed a detainee. Legal proceedings dragged on against him for two years before the medical community supported him. Then, the Navy dropped its investigation. Force feeding is not torture, but the incident indicates the sort of actions that one can expect for refusing an order sen as unlawful. As I have mentioned on this website before, military members are required to refuse unlawful orders. The question is is such an order unlawful if there is some sort of legal cover? The Task & Purpose post does not address how a soldier might ascertain whether a given order is unlawful or not. Instead, it recommends that members of the military understand the rule of engagement, any protocols regarding detainees, and pay attention to those Law of Armed Conflicts briefings we receive each year. This is serious business. No one wants to risk his/her career over an unlawful order. See Task & Purpose post here.