First-term Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, a fast-rising star in the Republican Party, may have broken a key military law when she signed an open letter to the government of Iran undercutting President Barack Obama’s attempts to seal a multilateral deal over the country’s nuclear program. If she did indeed break the law, she could be court-martialed, the law states.
A group of 47 Republican Senators in Monday published an “open letter” to the Iranian government in which they stated incorrectly that “any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress (is) nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.”
The letter went on to say that a future president, presumably a Republican, would revoke the agreement “with the stroke of a pen.”
Since publication of the “open letter,” there have been accusations leveled at the 47 senators of sedition or even treason, claiming that the senators violated the Logan Act, which prohibits American citizens from conducting foreign policy without authorization from the government.
The rarely-applied law has been in place since 1799, yet no one has ever been prosecuted under the act, and the last time any citizen was indicted for violating the Logan Act was 1803 — 212 years ago.
But a recent petition filed with Whitehouse.gov has accrued more than 160,000 signatures, calling for the 47 Republicans to face prosecution for violating the act.
The Joni Ernst situation, however, is unique. An noted in a recent posting on the liberal Daily Kos site — the 448th-most visited online site in the United States — The 44-year-old senator is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, and the laws governing that military unit specifically forbid Guard members from displaying “contempt” for the president.
“Any person subject to this code who uses contemptuous words against the president, the governor, or the governor of any other state, territory, commonwealth, or possession in which that person may be serving, shall be punished as a court-martial may direct,” the Iowa rule states, in wording taken directly from the federal military code.
The rule is designed to reinforce the principle that the U.S. military must remain under civilian control. Without that principle, the country runs the risk that the armed forces, acting independently, could seize control of the government in a military coup — as has been the case in many other countries, most recently Thailand.
Does the fact that Joni Ernst signed a letter to Iran that explicitly seeks to undermine a foreign policy of the U.S. president constitute “contemptuous words” against the commander-in-chief of the military? That could depend on whether Ernst is considered an “active duty” officer in the Guard, but ultimately will be left for her National Guard superiors to decide.
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