Pa. vets chastise Trump on Khan comments

Sean Philip Cotter
  • Several high-ranking Pa. veterans spoke strongly against Trump's statements about the Khan family.
  • The vets also fear Trump being commander in chief and giving orders that break the law.

During a conference call with reporters, a couple of Pennsylvania-based veterans worry that if Donald Trump were elected president, there could be a situation where the military would have to go directly against "illegal or immoral orders" from him.

Khizr Khan, father of fallen US Army Capt. Humayun S. M. Khan, speaks while his wife Ghazala Khan looks on, during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

"I would hope and pray that a military-civilian crisis is not in our future," said retired Major Gen. Gale Pollock.

When asked what that means, Pollock, elaborated: If members of the military believe they've been given an order that's illegal or immoral, they're oath-bound not to follow it, she said.

Orders, she said, like Republican nominee Trump's calls for torturing suspected terrorists and killing their families.

How the pushback for such an order is supposed to look, she continued, is confronting the person who gave that order and then going up the chain of command if necessary, said former Navy Reserve Cmdr. Chris Carney, who also was on the call.

"That’s why it becomes so difficult if he’s the commander in chief," Carney said of Trump. The only option, then, is for military commanders to directly disobey the orders for their civilian superior — the president. And that's never happened before, Pollock said.

"That would cause a very, very difficult situation for our military," she said.

Criticism grows over Trump's fight with Muslim vet's family

Pollock and Carney spoke about this during a conference call Monday afternoon organized by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, during which the military personnel chastised Trump for his comments about the family of Capt. Humayun Khan. Involved in the conference call were Pollack, who served temporarily as the acting Surgeon General of the United States Army under Democratic President Barack Obama; Carney, who's a Democratic congressman from Susquehanna County; and Manan Trivedi, who ran as a Democrat for the Berks County congressional seat the past three elections.

After Khan's father, Khizr Khan, spoke critically of Trump at the Democratic National Convention last week, Trump said he wanted to hear from Ghazala Khan, the captain's mother, who stood by her husband's side as he spoke but didn't address the DNC herself.

"If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say," Trump said, in an interview with ABC's "This Week." Those comments — especially in light of past statements and Trump's calls for a temporary ban on Muslims' coming to America — have been taken as anti-Muslim.

Ghazala Khan responded Sunday in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post, saying talking about her son's death 12 years ago is still hard for her. When her husband asked if she wanted to speak at the convention, she said she could not.

The three military personnel on the conference call strongly denounced Trump's words, which they said showed no respect for the country's armed forces or Gold Star families — those who have lost a soldier in service.

"Folks like me who've served this country for many years are absolutely disgusted by Donald Trump," Carney said. "He denigrates our services, he denigrates our families."

Trivedi called on Trump to apologize to the Khan family.

"For him to attack a mother who's grieving for her son is shameful," Trivedi said. "It’s not the kind of comments we want from our next president."

Trivedi cited Trump's past comments on Arizona Sen. John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, as another example of what he said was a trend of Trump bad-mouthing the military.

"Time and time again he’s insulted our veterans," Trivedi said. "I find Donald Trump's latest rhetoric disgusting."

When reached by phone Monday afternoon, Terry Gendron, York County's director of veterans affairs, wanted to stay away from taking sides concerning Trump's comments and remain above the current "political noise." But he said the large amount of diversity in the U.S. military is important to the institution.

"I served in the military for 22 years," he said, "and if you look at the name tags of the men and women who served, we come from every nation and every ethnic background."

It's a point of pride among service members, he said.

"You listen to their conversations — they're celebrating the differences between them," he said.

"It’s one of our greatest strengths," said Gendron, who attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army. "It’s one of the great strengths of our nation."

— Reach Sean Cotter or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD. The Associated Press contributed to this report.