MEMORANDUM FOR: General Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
SUBJECT: Syria and Our Oath to Defend the Constitution
Dear Gen. Dempsey:
Summary: We refer to your acknowledgment, in your letter of July 19 to Sen. Carl Levin on Syria, that a “decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly. It is no less than an act of war.” It appears that the President may order such an act of war without proper Congressional authorization.
As seasoned intelligence and military professionals solemnly sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, we have long been aware that – from private to general – it is one’s duty not to obey an illegal order. If such were given, the honorable thing would be to resign, rather than be complicit.
Who knows if this appeal (h/t SST) will strike a spark. The trend these retired intelligence professionals are trying to bring to an end is long-standing and backed by powerful interests. Nevertheless, its issuance alone is a critical marker of how deep the disaffection runs.
It’s true too that for once, a touch of optimism may be in order. Public opinion is strongly against any further military actions in the Middle East. The Obama administration’s unseemly rush to judgement and action also leaves them very exposed. The question of why there’s no time for proper evaluation of the evidence and open discussion of the potential consequences isn’t an easy one to avoid. And then there’s the UK Parliament which on Thursday took the radical step of voting against any British participation in punitive actions in Syria.
The imperial presidency that’s become the regrettable norm in recent decades may at last have tactically overreached.
It is precisely this kind of unsupported claim (so embarrassingly reminiscent of the spurious ones used more than a decade ago to “justify” attacks on Iraq) that needs to be subjected to rigorous analysis by both the Pentagon and Congress BEFORE the President orders military action. For some unexplained reason of urgency, that order may come within the next day or two. With no wish to prejudge the results of analysis presumably under way, we feel it our responsibility to tell you now that, speaking out of several hundred years of collective experience in intelligence and national security matters, we strongly believe that the President’s reference to a military strike on Syria being “needed to protect U.S. security” cannot bear close scrutiny.
In all candor, the credibility of his chief national security advisers – and his own credibility – have been seriously damaged in recent months, giving all the more urgency and importance to the need for Congress to exercise its Constitutional role regarding war.
If Congress doesn’t seize this opportunity to restore its own proper powers, the signatories ask Dempsey to act as a lightning rod.
We do not understand why the White House has so far been unwilling to await the results of the UN inspection in Damascus, but we are all too familiar with what happens once the juggernaut starts rolling to war. However, if despite Thursday’s vote in the British Parliament and the increased opposition in Congress to war without the authorization of Congress, the President decides to order an attack on Syria, we urge you to act in accordance with your solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution, as well as your own conscience.
In such circumstances, we believe strongly that you should resign and explain your reasons at once to the American people.
This is a crucial moment for America. The rest of us can but watch and await the outcome.
1 List of signatories (the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity)
William Binney, Senior Scientist, NSA (ret.)
Thomas Drake, Senior Executive, NSA (former)
Dan Ellsberg, VIPS Member Emeritus
Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)
Larry Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)
W. Patrick Lang, Senior Executive and Defense Intelligence Officer, DIA (ret.)
David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East (ret.)
Todd Pierce, US Army Judge Advocate General (ret.)
Coleen Rowley, Division Council & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)
Larry Wilkerson, Col., US Army (ret); Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell
Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret); Foreign Service Officer (ret.)