(CNN)Members of the military who followed a would-be President Donald Trump's order to kill terrorists' families could face a Nuremberg-like war crimes trial, a former U.S. defense secretary tells CNN.
Military could face Nuremberg-like trial following Trump's orders, says ex-official
There's "something called Nuremberg that we have to be concerned about," William Cohen told Christiane Amanpour, referring to the military tribunals held in the wake of World War II.
If "you have an order given by the commander in chief, which violates every sense of law and order, international law and order, that would make any of those who carried out that dictum as such to be a violation of the international criminal code."
"So I think we have to be very careful what we're saying here."
Cohen served as a Republican senator from Maine for nearly 20 years, and as defense secretary during the second term of Bill Clinton's presidency.
He was referring to comments by Trump made to Fox News, that "when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families."
Michael Hayden, former CIA director and a retired Air Force general, told HBO's Bill Maher on Friday that "the American armed forces would refuse to act" in response to such an order.
Cohen said it "contravenes everything the United States stands for in this world of disorder."
"We have been strong internationalists. We have been a player on the international scene to promote our ideals."
"That has been the driving dream of the United States, to say look what a free country can do that abides by the rule of law, that has a sense of respect for individuality, for diversity, and for freedom of speech. This is something that's quite dangerous."
Trump defended his stance during the Fox GOP debate Thursday night.
"Let me just tell you, you look at the Middle East. They're chopping off heads," he said. "They're chopping off the heads of Christians and anybody else that happens to be in the way. They're drowning people in steel cages."
Trump said in the case of the September 11, 2001, attacks, some of the terrorists' families knew what was happening.