US presidential orders are only legal within the territorial US. Outside the US they are all illegal.
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North’s justification for following Vice President George H. W. Bush’s unlawful orders. The Iran Contra affair is composed of two matters: arms sales to Iran, and funding of Contra militants in Nicaragua. Direct funding of the Nicaraguan rebels had been made illegal through the Boland Amendment.
Each and every order that any US president issues to his military, government agencies, enforcement agencies and subordinates are only legal within the territorial boundaries of the United States. Each and every time the president issues orders that require US citizens to take action outside the US, each and every time those US citizens are bound by the laws of the targeted country. If the US president orders the CIA, the largest state sponsored terrorist group in the World, to infiltrate a foreign state to kidnap, kill, steal or sabotage, the CIA agent is committing a crime and it subject to punishment in the affected foreign state. The US president does not have the legal authority, whatsoever, to order his country’s citizens to enter another country for the sole purpose of committing indictable crimes. In every country there are laws that make it a federal offense to kidnap, kill, or sabotage. Every time that a US president issues an order to commit an indictable offense against a foreign state he too is committing an indictable offense.
US presidential orders are only legal within the territorial US. Outside the US they are all illegal. The Court has repeatedly affirmed the territorial limitations imposed on US law by the principles of state sovereignty and international comity - “a state is only competent to enforce its laws within its own territorial boundaries” - “that a state has exclusive sovereignty over all persons, citizens or aliens, and all property, real or personal, within its own territory”. A US president is the elected leader of the United States of America only. His or her authority is over the US citizens and only within the territorial boundaries of the United States.
US made laws, bills or sanctions only apply to US citizens “within” the United States. Absolutely no country has to comply with any US made laws. The moment US citizens leave the United States they are subject to the laws of the country they enter. No matter where you go in the World murder is a capitol crime. There is no immunity for murder - not even in the US.
US sanctions only apply to US businesses. Sovereignty is the exclusive right to complete political (including legislative, judicial, and or executive) control over an area of governance, people, or oneself. A sovereign is the supreme lawmaking authority, subject to no other. Case in point, the Iraqi oil and the Afghanistan gas pipeline are the property of the Iraqi and Afghan people and only they have the right to choose what they do with it. If the US wants the Middle East oil they will have to negotiate a fair price for it like everyone else. The Middle East did not join the United States. Afghanistan did not join the US. Iraq and Afghanistan were both illegally attacked by the US in a war of aggression. The Iraqi people and the Afghan people have never elected George W Bush as their president. The US has no right or legal authority to impose their will on any foreign state or to commit crimes in any foreign state.
Military discipline and effectiveness is built on the foundation of obedience to orders. Recruits are taught to obey, immediately and without question, orders from their superiors, right from day-one of boot camp. Seems like pretty good motivation to obey any order you’re given, right? Wrong. The law requires obedience to LAWFUL orders. An order which is unlawful not only does not need to be obeyed, but obeying such an order can result in criminal prosecution of the one who obeys it. Military courts have long held that military members are accountable for their actions even while following orders — if the order was illegal.
“I was only following orders,” has been unsuccessfully used as a legal defense in hundreds of cases (probably most notably by Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg tribunals following World War II). The defense didn’t work for them, nor has it worked in hundreds of cases since.
Following illegal orders are not a viable defense from criminal prosecution. In United States v. Keenan, the accused (Keenan) was found guilty of murder after he obeyed an order to shoot and kill an elderly Vietnamese citizen. The Court of Military Appeals held that “the justification for acts done pursuant to orders does not exist if the order was of such a nature that a man of ordinary sense and understanding would know it to be illegal.”
It’s clear, under military law, that military members can be held accountable for crimes committed under the guise of “obeying orders,” and there is no requirement to obey orders which are unlawful. The same applies to agents of the US government. US government agents (CIA, FBI, NSA, DEA, DHS) can be held accountable for crimes committed under the guise of “obeying orders”, as the law requires one to obey only lawful orders. Crimes like murder, kidnapping and torture are all crimes under US law. To act upon an order that results in the murder, kidnapping or torturing of any person, either foreign or domestic, is a criminal offense in the US and every foreign state.