President-elect Donald Trump has thousands of executive branch positions to fill, including the spot in the Office of Legal Counsel once occupied by the detestable war criminal John C. Yoo. William C. Bradford, an obscure, disgraced ex-West Point instructor and unabashed advocate of genocide and military rule, might assume Yoo’s station as chief legal apologist for presidential war crimes.
The OLC’s stated function is to advise the president regarding the constraints imposed upon his powers by the Constitution and laws made pursuant to it. Yoo specialized in devising intricate rationales for presidential lawlessness. His most famous work is the so-called Bybee Memorandum, one of several documents in which Yoo defended the claim that the president can essentially order the abuse, torture, and mutilation of detainees, and the military or intelligence operatives who carry out such orders are legally unaccountable. Yoo has publicly stated that the president has the legal authority to order the sexual torture and mutilation of a child if he can contrive a “national security” rationale for such an atrocity.
Translating that claim into pop culture terms, Yoo would see nothing wrong in a President Negan torturing Carl in order to break Rick’s spirit – if this is done in the name of “national security.”
After promoting an American version of fuhrerprinzip as an advisor to George W. Bush, Yoo found Donald Trump unsuitable to the task of exercising the power to imprison, torture, and assassinate people of his choosing. This isn’t because Yoo takes issue with Trump’s authoritarian disposition, but rather because he is concerned that Trump is not ideologically reliable. Thus it’s doubtful that Yoo will be asked to rejoin the executive branch under Trump. The transition team is looking to re-cast the role Yoo had played as legal enabler to the worst presidential impulses – and Bradford is all but wetting his pants in his incontinent eagerness to fill the post.
Over the past year, Bradford, an attorney and quondam law professor, has promoted the idea that academic dissenters from the “Global War on Terrorism,” and attorneys who represent terrorism suspects, should be treated as enemy combatants. Thus branded, attorneys and scholars would be eligible for the full menu of punitive options, including extra-judicial arrest and indefinite detention, trial by military tribunals, torture, and even summary execution.
“The West must shatter Islamists’ political will and eradicate those who do not renounce Islamism,” insists Bradford in a 185-page diatribe entitled “Trahsion des Professeurs: The Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy as an Islamist Fifth Column,” which was published in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of the George Mason University National Security Law Journal. “All instruments of national power – including conventional and nuclear force and PSYOPs [psychological warfare operations] – must be harnessed … to capture the hearts and minds of Islamic peoples, break their will to fight for Islamism, and leave them prepared to coexist with the West or be utterly eradicated….”
In confronting an existential crisis, Bradford asserts, “survival is its own justification.” There is no room for “legal fetishists” who are skeptical of decisions by the executive or military leadership: “Americans are entitled not only to political leaders who employ and all necessary measures but to the strong presumption such measures are legal, and to the salutary effects of this presumption upon their belief in the virtue of their cause and their will to fight for it.”
Jefferson pointedly taught that patriots are to be irrepressibly suspicious of the exercise of government power. Bradford, who would find Jefferson’s wisdom lacking and his patriotism questionable, treats such skepticism as sedition, rather than civic virtue.
To wage “total war” against a tenacious and all-but-omnipresent enemy, all restrictions on government power must be supplanted by what he calls the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC). In this way, the executive is emancipated from checks and balances, and the constitutional subordination of the military to civilian control is reversed: “[I]t is the military upon whom the constitutional duty to defend Americans is incumbent, and in whom Americans repose trust.”
Madison, another Founder whom Bradford would consign to a detention camp, warned that armies – rather than being worthy of public trust – are, along with public debts and taxes, “the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.”
Bradford refers to scholarly critics of Washington’s open-ended war against Islamism as the Critical Law of Armed Conflict Academy, an artlessly contrived expression intended to justify the pungently dismissive acronym CLOACA. While admitting that “no membership roll exists” of that intellectual cohort, and declining to name specific examples (most likely out of a desire to avoid civil liability), Bradford insists that scholars who fit within that amorphous category constitute an “Islamist Fifth Column,” even when no evidence of conscious collaboration exists.
Scholarship that challenges the “autonomy” of the Pentagon, or “dismiss[es] military wisdom” by questioning the legality, constitutionality, or morality of foreign wars, indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, or the use of torture as an interrogation technique are not mere academic exercises, according to Bradford. Instead, they are a form of advocacy that “attenuates U.S. arms and undermines American will, [and] are PSYOPs. Which are combatant acts,” Bradford maintains.
As “propaganda inciting others to war crimes, such acts are prosecutable….. CLOACA members are thus combatants who, like all other combatants, can be targeted at any time and place and captured and detained until termination of hostilities” – without judicial recourse. Assuming that “CLOACA members” would be treated in the same fashion as their supposed Islamist comrades, they would be subject to “judicial execution post-interrogation” if this were considered justifiable as a matter of military necessity.
The threshold for such treatment is astonishingly low. Academic dissenters who publicly describe the U.S. government as “an `aggressor’ or employer of illegal methods and means, or [cast] aspersions on U.S. motives” for carrying out military operations display “an intent to betray the United States” or to give aid and comfort to the enemy, Bradford contends. Those thus identified would be subject to what Bradford calls a “counterattack” involving a range of options drawn from a continuum of “increasing coercion” – including mandatory loyalty oaths, termination from employment, formal criminal charges for “material support of terrorism” or even “treason” – a capital offense.
Ominously, in the wake of the summary execution, via drone strikes, of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and his American-born, 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, Bradford asserts that scholarly critics of Washington’s terror war who “commit treason, or otherwise engage in unlawful combatancy … must answer for their delicts just as any others do. The perversity inherent in countenancing intellectual elitism as a basis for a defense against prosecution and a grant of immunity from targeting in war is astonishing.” (Emphasis added.)
Elsewhere in the essay, Bradford observes that “enemy combatants may be targeted and killed wherever and whenever they can be found” and that “UAVs [that is, missile-bearing drones], as with other weapons systems, do not require that targets of targeting killing be afforded a warning or judicial process before use.”
The coercive “counterattack” against so-called “CLOACA members” would not be limited to lawyers or scholars who express critical views:
“[The] infrastructure used to create and disseminate CLOACA propaganda – law school facilities, scholars’ home offices, and media outlets where they give interviews – are also lawful targets given the causal connection between the content disseminated and the Islamist crimes incited. Shocking and extreme as this option might seem, CLOACA scholars, and the law schools that employ them, are – at least in theory – targetable so long as attacks are proportional, distinguish noncombatants from combatants, employ non-prohibited weapons, and contribute to the defeat of Islamism.”
Bradford would not confine the potential targets to supposedly treasonous professors and lawyers. Private citizens who are insufficiently submissive to the military junta would likewise be regarded as fair game.
“Fighting total war demands a mental reconfiguration” on the part of the public by resolving “arguments over how to balance security and liberty in favor of security,” Bradford insists, and “acculturating the necessary fighting spirit” in the population through mass propaganda and, where possible, conspicuous punishment of dissidents.
“Spartanization of the West will require the deepening of the concept of citizenship to include duties as well as rights,” writes Bradford, regurgitating a well-chewed collectivist nostrum “Rights are attended by corresponding duties, and the state may obligate citizens – even academics – to contribute to to the struggle in those ways they are able.”
Refusal “to acknowledge the Islamist threat as an existential challenge to Western Civilization, and to … unite to defeat that threat, would be the greatest dereliction of duty in history,” he declares.
Anticipating responses from critics, Bradford acknowledges that some might complain that his overwrought essay “incites authoritarianism insofar as it counsels militarization, withdraws debates over the enemy from the political arena, vilifies those who fail to acknowledge a grave threat, punishes disloyalty, and takes up law as sword and shield to defend and destroy political will.” Rather than explaining how that critique is inaccurate, Bradford parries such objections by insisting that “mobilization on all fronts is as necessary as a response to the current threat condition as it was during World War II.”
Bradford’s disdain for dissent, due process, and the rule of law do summon comparisons to a World War II-era legal revolution. In his study Hitler’s Justice: The Courts of the Third Reich, Ingo Mueller describes how the Nazified German legal system was founded on the assumption that “the `national aim’” was the central organizing principle of society, and all guarantees of rights and limitations of state power yielded before the doctrine of “national emergency.”
Citing the rulings of the German Supreme Court and the writings of influential Party-aligned jurists, Mueller writes that the Nazi-era equivalent of Bradford’s Law of Armed Conflict dictated that “objectivity finds its limits … when the national security is placed in doubt.” Every judge and lawyer was required to be “a son of his country” who would “place the vital interests of the nation unconditionally above what is formally the law.”
Bradford spent several years teaching law to West Point cadets before being forced to resign in August 2015. Significantly, he wasn’t terminated for his advocacy of a genocidal foreign policy or a totalitarian campaign to suppress domestic dissent, but rather chose to resign rather than manning up and facing disciplinary action for inflating his military resume and falsely claiming to have received a Silver Star for combat duty in Desert Storm. In defiance of West Point’s honor code (“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do”), Bradford routinely lies about the circumstances of his ouster, claiming that Barack Obama had him cashiered for being politically incorrect.
There is a very good chance that the Trump administration will find a place for Bradford. Had the election turned out differently, it’s quite likely Bradford would now be quietly networking with like-minded militarists to overthrow a Hillary Clinton administration.
After publishing his blueprint for “Spartanizing” the United States, Bradford privately circulated a draft of an unpublished law review article entitled “Alea Iacta Est: The U.S. Coup of 2017.” An abstract of that essay posted to Bradford’s LinkedIn page adumbrated a scenario in which a U.S. president becomes an undisguised “tyrant” who must be replaced by a military junta. A “tyrant,” by Bradford’s definition, would be one who wields unaccountable power in a way he and others who share his prejudices would find unacceptable.
“What if the American people were to elect a president who want[s] to destroy the nation and works to create division among the people, encourage a culture of ridicule for basic morality and the principles that made and sustained the country, undermine the financial stability of the nation, and weaken and destroy the military?” Bradford writes. “What remedies, if any, did the Framers commend to us in the event a tyrant should ever assume the presidency? Do the people have the right to resist a tyrant, and does that really hold any prospect of success without the support of the military? Does the U.S. military have the right or even the duty to intervene in the domestic politics of the United States as constitutional and political savior when the times require it, and who makes that determination?… Is such a duty incumbent upon the U.S. Armed Forces at present?”(Emphasis added.)
Bradford’s reference to the emancipated military as saviors summons images of Negan and his loyal band of robbers who refer to themselves by that title as they expropriate and terrorize people in the name of “protecting” them — punctuating their labors with conspicuous execution of potential dissenters as an object lesson to the rest.
The title of Bradford’s essay might be an allusion to a previous treatment of a similar theme:
Brig. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap’s essay “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012,” which was published in the Winter 1992—93 issue of the U.S. Army War College journal Parameters. Where Bradford appears to believe that a coup might be a “duty” incumbent on the military, Gen. Dunlap – writing from a constitutionalist, rather than praetorian, perspective – was clearly alarmed by what he saw as an entirely plausible scenario.
Dunlap used the literary device of a smuggled prison letter composed by “Prisoner 222305759,” condemned to death for “treason” by military ruler Gen. E.T. Brutus. Following a series of military disasters overseas and domestic crises at home, Brutus, acting on concerns very similar to those spelled out by Bradford (or, for that matter, described in Robert Heinlein’s premonitory novel Starship Troopers), staged a coup in the name of protecting “public order” from the corruption of the political class.
In the decades leading up to the putsch, the unnamed Prisoner recalled, “The one institution of government in which people retained faith was the military.” Even as the public lamented the corruption and profligacy of Big Government, they had nothing but bottomless respect for the Regime’s chief instrument of death and property destruction. The military retained its prestige in spite of the fact that its structural defects — made painfully visible by a long, bloody, and futile war in the Gulf — left it “unfit to engage an authentic military opponent.”
While the military was no longer well-suited to fight and win wars, its subtle integration into every element of domestic life made it perfectly suited to carry out a coup:
“Eventually, people became acclimated to seeing uniformed military personnel patrolling their neighborhood. Now [meaning 2012 in the essay’s timeline] troops are an adjunct to almost all police forces in the country. In many of the areas where much of our burgeoning population of elderly Americans live — Brutus calls them ‘National Security Zones’ — the military is often the only law enforcement agency. Consequently, the military was ideally positioned in thousands of communities to support the coup.”
Although 2012 passed without an overt military takeover, Dunlap’s projection of trends – especially the disastrous long-term military entanglement in the Middle East, the expanding role of the Pentagon in routine domestic law enforcement, and the pervasive cultural presence of the military in everyday American life — has proven to be uncannily prescient. The same is true of the apparently inexhaustible respect and public deference enjoyed by the military, despite widespread and deepening disillusionment with nearly every other branch of government.
For most of this year, Bradford has been updating his recommendations, loudly defending Donald Trump’s proposal to target civilian families of suspected terrorists and demanding a return to conscription. His proprietary blend of militancy and sycophancy may be rewarded with a plunder-funded position in which he could help devise legal justifications for military rule. Stephen Bannon, chosen to be Trump’s chief White House strategist, is an unabashed proponent of the view that the United States is involved in a global war against radical Islam. Bradford would find suitable company among the bellicose officials with whom Trump is stocking the national security apparatus.