Defense Secretary says he will openly defy Trump if ordered to commit war crimes against Iran

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday said that the military will openly defy Donald Trump if he calls for military strikes on Iranian cultural sites, acknowledging that such an order is a war crime and should not happen.

"We will follow the laws of armed conflict," Esper said at a news conference on Monday, after CNN reporter Barbara Star asked whether the military would follow Trump's orders to attack cultural sites if Trump asked.

Star continued to press Esper, asking if the laws of armed conflict consider targeting cultural sites as a war crime, to which Esper replied, "That's the laws of armed conflict."

The only reason for a military leader to defy an order from a commander in chief is if the order is "illegal, immoral, or unethical," according to CNN.

Over the weekend, Trump threatened to attack 52 sites in Iran, some of them "important to Iran [and] the Iranian culture," if Iran ever retaliated against the United States after the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

However, purposefully attacking cultural sites would violate the 1954 Hague Convention, which calls for protecting cultural sites in armed conflict.

Trump, however, doesn't seem to think he needs to follow long-standing international treaties.

"They're allowed to kill our people. They're allowed to torture and maim our people. They're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way," Trump said on Sunday night aboard Air Force One, suggesting that he thought he should be about to break the laws.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation. Attribution: Emily Singer.