WASHINGTON — For more than five years, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) broke its own policies for handling cases of non-citizen veterans who may be subject to removal from the United States. In some cases ICE skipped steps that would ensure the veterans received thorough and fair treatment — and then not reporting the individual was a veteran.
Those failures and more, regularly in the news, were outlined in a June 2019 report by the Government Accounting Office, sent to House and Senate armed services committees and the Pentagon, among other places. Because of sloppiness in ICE, no firm number on the numbers of veterans deported — including those who served multiple terms in Iraq and Afghanistan — is publicly known.
On Thursday, Army Gen. Mark Milley, nominated to be the next chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he did not know about the issue. “Not familiar with what you are talking about,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
For the most part, Milley stuck to the script voiced by Pentagon spokespersons. An early pullout from Afghanistan would be a mistake. Iran is a “formidable” threat. China is “improving their military very, very rapidly in space, air, cyber, maritime, land domains, etc. They’re outspending us on research and development and procurement, (and) went to school on us (mimicking what the learned by watching the U.S. in the gulf wars),” he told committee members.
He also defended the Pentagon’s ban on certain transgender people joining the military, saying it is not a ban but one of many possible medical and physical issues a recruit may have.
“If they identify as transgender, then they can apply for waivers if they have gender dysphoria, which is a medical condition,” Milley said. “That waiver, like all the other medical waivers that we grant, will be evaluated by medical professionals to determine if they meet the standards.”
Milley vowed not to be cowed when in the Oval Office giving advice to President Donald Trump, who leapfrogged him from the group of contenders to be the next Joint Chiefs chair. Milley said he is “not going to be intimidated into making stupid decisions,” noting that Arlington National Cemetery is “full of our comrades” as an illustration of the cost of war and the hazards of the profession.
“Absolutely not. By no one ever,” Milley said. “I’ll give my best military advice. It’ll be candid. It’ll be honest. It’ll be rigorous, and it’ll be thorough. That’s what I’ll do every single time.”
Earlier in the hearing, Milley also promised not to follow any order that is illegal, unethical or immoral. He said no one in the military — officer or enlisted personnel — can take what he called the “Nuremberg stand” as an excuse. “You can’t hide behind the ‘I was ordered to do it’,” he said.
There are some bipartisan qualms that with the departure of James Mattis as defense secretary at the end of last year, the Pentagon will not stamp up to Trump’s orders regardless of legality. There is a growing concern, for example, of what Trump may order should he lose the 2020 presidential election, military analysts have said in interviews.