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Top U.S. general says he would reject 'illegal' nuclear strike order from President Trump

Gen. John Hyten, commander of STRATCOM, explained at a conference Saturday how he would react to an unlawful request from President Trump to launch a nuclear warhead. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

What happened?

The U.S. military's top nuclear general said Saturday he would reject an order from President Donald Trump to launch a nuclear warhead if he deemed it "illegal."

Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command — also known as STRATCOM — said at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada on Saturday that he has thought about what he would do if Trump gave an order that was illegal — and he knows exactly how he would react.

Hyten's comments came in response to a question about the scenario. According to CBS News, Hyten said:

I think some people think we're stupid. We're not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?

I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do. And if it's illegal, guess what's going to happen? I'm going to say, "Mr. President, that's illegal." And guess what he's going to do? He's going to say, "What would be legal?" And we'll come up with options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that's the way it works. It's not that complicated.

What would be an illegal order?

Well, it would depend on the situation. But Hyten said that each year he is retrained in the law of military armed conflict. According to CBS such factors that would determine the legality of a nuclear strike include, "necessity, distinction, proportionality, unnecessary suffering," among other factors.

However, Hyten was clear what would happen if an unlawful strike was ordered and executed.

"If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life," he said.

The top general said the military routinely practices what they would do if an illegal order is requested.

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