You may not be old enough to remember Adolf Eichmann, so here’s a thumbnail history lesson, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Otto Adolf Eichmann … , sometimes referred to as “the architect of the Holocaust”, was a German Nazi and SS-Obersturmbannführer (equivalent to Lieutenant Colonel). Because of his organizational talents and ideological reliability, he was charged by Obergruppenführer (General) Reinhard Heydrich with the task of facilitating and managing the logistics of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in German-occupied Eastern Europe.
After the war, he fled to Argentina using a fraudulently obtained laissez-passer issued by the International Red Cross and lived there under a false identity working for Mercedes-Benz until 1960. He was captured by Israeli Mossad operatives in Argentina and abducted to Israel to face trial in an Israeli court on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. He was found guilty and executed by hanging in 1962, and is the only person to have been executed in Israel on conviction by a civilian court.
Eichmann, speaking in his own defense, said that he did not dispute the facts of what happened during the Holocaust. During the whole trial, Eichmann insisted that he was only “following orders”—the same Nuremberg Defense used by some of the Nazi war criminals during the 1945–1946 Nuremberg Trials. He explicitly declared that he had abdicated his conscience in order to follow the Führerprinzip. Eichmann claimed that he was merely a “transmitter” with very little power. He testified that: “I never did anything, great or small, without obtaining in advance express instructions from Adolf Hitler or any of my superiors.”
The “only following orders” defense reminds me of the meme that’s popular in “progressive” circles. A commenter at Daily Kos captures it well:
If you believe “A job worth doing is worth doing well,” you probably also believe a job that’s not worth doing is not worth doing well. A classic conservative belief is that the government that governs least governs best, and it seems a lot of Republicans honestly believe that some things our government does it shouldn’t be doing at all….
If you’re a top-level Republican patronage recipient, you probably got a job doing something you still think the government should do. But if you’re a B team talent who took a political patronage job, there’s a good chance it’s in a program or agency you don’t even think should exist. If it’s a program you’d like to cancel but you know cancellation is a legislative impossibility, it almost makes sense to do the worst possible job you can get away with….
In other words, it doesn’t matter whether the function is constitutional. Nor does it matter that you took an oath of office in which you swore to uphold the Constitution. What matters is following orders. And if your job is to follow the “orders” enshrined in unconstitutional laws, regulations, and executive edicts, you’d better follow those “orders,” by gum.
(I have replaced the letters i-e-g and e-i-l with asterisks because it seems that the filters on some public computers blocked this blog because it contained the verboten words. It is beyond the ability of filtering software to put the words in context. The mock salute is to the fascisti in D.C.; it is by no means an homage to one of the most evil regimes of the twentieth century.)