In this file photo, thousands of Donald Trump supporters storm the United States Capitol building following a “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The protesters stormed the historic building, breaking windows and clashing with police. Trump supporters had gathered in the nation’s capital to protest the ratification of then President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A hand grenade was dropped into the lap of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba in 2004 when he was assigned to investigate reports of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. I understand the conflicting interests such an investigator faces because I had been appointed to investigate an artillery incident involving a friend in my heavy artillery unit in Vietnam in 1968. A scrupulous investigation that discloses fault or wrongdoing by the military can be a career killer for an Army lifer like Gen. Taguba.
Nevertheless, Gen. Taguba, a 1972 graduate of Idaho State University and only the second Filipino-American to achieve general officer rank in the Army, did an outstanding job. Tellingly, he was not authorized to pursue wrongdoing into the upper ranks, but he meticulously documented and reported the abuse that occurred in the prison setting and suggested to the top ranks of the defense establishment that fault went to its highest reaches. That warning was unwelcome by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and many of his supporters, who went into denial and cover-up mode.
Had the truth-telling Taguba’s report been publicly embraced and appropriate action been taken to bring all those responsible for the abuse to account, the lives of many U.S. service personnel could have been saved. The denial and cover-up provided the Iraqi insurgents a remarkably effective recruitment tool to increase their ranks and kill more Americans. The notorious founder of the Islamic State, which almost took over Iraq, did time at the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison.
Gen. Taguba performed a valuable service by giving the Defense Department the unvarnished truth about a shameful situation: A situation which actually provided the U.S. with an opportunity to show that we really do live our values and will punish those who transgress them, no matter how exalted their rank. Revealing the truth and owning up to responsibility goes a long way in trying to quell an insurgency. Our leaders failed the country by declining to grasp that opportunity. Regrettably, the general also lost his opportunity to gain another star because of honorably speaking truth to power.
Now, Gen. Taguba is trying to alert the highest power in this democracy, the American people, of a danger to our form of government. He has joined two other distinguished, retired general officers, Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton and Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson, in warning that the military must prepare for a 2024 possible insurrection in America.
The three generals point to the fact that 10 percent of those charged with attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were veterans or active-duty military, also that the Oklahoma National Guard refused an order from the secretary of defense to vaccinate its members. They say this demonstrates the potential for a “breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines–from the top of the chain to squad level.”
Nothing is more essential to discipline in the military than the requirement to follow lawful orders. Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice makes it a punishable offense to fail or refuse to follow orders. I defended a number of soldiers in Vietnam who were charged with failing to obey standing orders. They were not ideal soldiers. Without such a rule, soldiers could do as they wished, endangering the attainment of military objectives.
There is no question that requiring troops to get vaccinations against a wide range of illnesses is the lawful subject of military orders. I got nearly a dozen shots to protect against a wide range of exotic diseases when I went into the Army. Refusing, getting sick, infecting others, endangering the mission, were not options.
The military is now discharging many of those who have refused to get the safe and effective vaccinations against COVID-19. Learning the identity of those military personnel who are inclined to disobey orders may prove to be a blessing for the future stability of our country. If the lawbreakers will disobey one lawful order, why might they not disobey another standing order — not to rise up against our lawfully-elected government? All of those who think they are above following orders should be discharged before they are put to the test of whether or not to support our democracy.
Thanks to that honorable, truth-telling Idaho State Bengal, Antonio Taguba, for having the courage to serve his country’s true interests in the Iraq War. Thanks also for joining with his colleagues in warning against a much greater offense that might be inflicted upon our great country in 2024 by groups of military lawbreakers.
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