WASHINGTON (AP) - Scores of retired military and defense leaders are denouncing President Donald Trump and accusing him of using the U.S. Armed Forces to undermine the rights of Americans protesting police brutality and the killing of George Floyd.
The condemnation Friday came in an op-ed in The Washington Post, signed by 89 former defense officials, and in a letter in support of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, signed by 55 retired military leaders.
It comes days after law enforcement officers used tear gas and deployed flash bangs to disperse a peaceful protest near White House shortly before Trump walked to the area to pose with a Bible in front of a damaged church. The president also threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deploy federal troops to quell the protests.
The Post op-ed accuses Trump of betraying his oath of office “by threatening to order members of the U.S. military to violate the rights of their fellow Americans.” The defense leaders want the president to end any plan to send active-duty forces into cities and to avoid using them in any way that would threaten the constitutional rights of fellow Americans.
The op-ed was signed by a mix of Republicans and Democrats, including former defense secretaries Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, Ash Carter and William Cohen; former national intelligence director James Clapper; former CIA director Michael Hayden; and former Navy secretaries Sean O'Keefe, Ray Mabus and Richard Danzig.
In the letter released by the Biden campaign, leaders including retired Gen. Merrill McPeak, an Air Force chief of staff in the 1990s, call on Trump to stop “tarnishing the military” by deploying its forces against peaceful protesters. They want the president to halt his “divisive rhetoric” and acknowledge the valid grievances of black Americans.
Separately, Trump's former defense secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine general, and John Allen, a retired four-star general in the Marine Corps, have also denounced Trump's behavior over the protests, with Allen saying the dispersal of protesters near the White House on Monday "may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment.”
The military leaders who signed the Biden letter say they are heartened by the courage of the demonstrators and by local leaders who have listened to the protesters and acknowledge the legitimacy of their cause.
“Those of us who have served believe the greatness of our military -- and the greatness of our nation -- depends upon the calls for change in the streets today becoming votes for change in November,” the 55 military leaders wrote.