A retired three-star general has spoken out about Donald Trump's claim that the military would not "refuse me", saying the armed forces would not be his "palace guards" if he became president.

Retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling said he had "a visceral response" to some of Trump's comments during the most recent Republican debate, on Friday.

But the statement that really "concerned" him, Hertling told CNN's Chris Cuomo yesterday, came when Trump told debate moderator Bret Baier that there was no way US service members would refuse to follow his orders.

"They won't refuse," Trump, the Republican frontrunner, said during the debate on Fox News. "They're not going to refuse me, believe me. If I say do it, they're going to do it. That's what leadership is all about."

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Hertling forcefully disagreed, calling Trump's management style "toxic leadership". "Somebody needs to remind Mr Trump that the military is not his palace guards," Hertling said. "They take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.

"They also abide by the rules - not only of the uniform code of military justice, the UCMJ - but they also abide by the UN mandate against torture and the Geneva Convention protocols against torture."

He added: "We do not do this. It is not within our purview."

Mark Phillip Hertling. Photo / Supplied
Mark Phillip Hertling. Photo / Supplied

Hertling retired in 2012 as a three-star general and commander of all US Army forces in Europe. He previously commanded an armoured division in northern Iraq.

His comments came during a broader discussion with New York state Representative Al Baldasaro, a military veteran and ardent Trump defender.

On the campaign trail and in debates, Trump has offered conflicting statements about his views on torture.

On Saturday, Trump appeared to take back his remarks from the previous day's debate, saying he would not force a military officer to violate the law. If elected, he said, he will be bound by laws "just like all Americans" and would meet those responsibilities.

But he felt strongly about the need to kill terrorists who aim to strike the US. "I will use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies," Trump said. "I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters."

Trump previously told a South Carolina retirement community that he supports waterboarding and similar interrogation techniques because "torture works" when it comes to extracting vital information from terrorists.

Deeming waterboarding "torture", the Obama Administration discontinued its use during his first term in office.

Donald Trump said in his most recent debate that the United States' armed forces 'would not refuse me'. Photo / Supplied
Donald Trump said in his most recent debate that the United States' armed forces 'would not refuse me'. Photo / Supplied

Trump has not only pledged to reinstate waterboarding, he has even promised to introduce other methods of interrogation that are "so much worse" and "much stronger". "Don't tell me it doesn't work - torture works," Trump told the Sun City retirement community. "Okay, folks? Torture - you know, half these guys [say]: 'Torture doesn't work.' Believe me, it works. Okay?"

Those remarks were criticised by former CIA director Michael Hayden during an appearance on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher.

Hayden told Maher that he believes there is a legitimate possibility that the US military would refuse to follow orders given by Trump if the candidate's language didn't evolve.

"I would be incredibly concerned if a President Trump governed in a way that was consistent with the language that candidate Trump expressed during the campaign," said Hayden, who also headed the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005.

During his appearance yesterday on CNN, Hertling didn't reference Hayden's comments, but he did say there were no indications that torture works.

He knew, he said, because he'd run interrogation facilities in combat.

"It's used by individuals to generate revenge or frustration or oppose an authority, but it does not generate information," Hertling said. "There are much better ways to get information through proper interrogation techniques."

This is not the first time Hertling has tangled with Trump over foreign affairs and the billionaire businessman's leadership style. In July, during a conversation about keeping terrorists from infiltrating Iraq's oil fields, Trump told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he's "a better general" than Hertling.

Hertling subsequently said Trump's "simplistic analogies" show that he lacks a firm grasp of foreign affairs.

"He may be a very good business man, but the art of soldiering is a profession," Hertling said. "I'm not sure he understands the science and the art of soldiering and the connection of military strategy with national security strategy."

The retired army commander added: "He certainly doesn't understand the complexity of what's going on in Iraq and the Middle East."

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