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Petraeus: US military protects Americans' right 'to criticize us'

October 22, 2017 - 1:26 pm

(WASHINGTON) -- Retired four-star U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus said the military is "fiercely protective” of the freedoms of speech and expression “even if that includes criticizing us.”

This is a different view than that of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said it's "highly inappropriate" to debate a U.S. general.

"I think we're all fair game," Petraeus told ABC News This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz in an exclusive interview Sunday. "We in uniform protect the rights of others to criticize us, frankly."

Petraeus was responding to a remark made at a Friday media briefing, where Sanders said it would be "inappropriate" for a reporter to question a claim by White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly.

Sanders was defending Kelly’s claim that Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida -- who criticized President Trump’s response to a grieving military widow -- had taken credit for securing federal funding for an FBI building in Miami in a 2015 speech.

Video of Wilson's speech obtained by the Sun-Sentinel appeared to refute Kelly's account. When a reporter pointed this out to Sanders, the press secretary said, "If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you. But I think if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that's something highly inappropriate."

Sanders later sought to clarify her comment, telling ABC News in a statement, "Of course everyone can be questioned, but after witnessing Gen. Kelly's heartfelt and somber account [of his son's death in military combat] we should all be able to agree that impugning his credibility on how best to honor fallen heroes is not appropriate."

Petraeus urged everyone to unite behind Gold Star families and “embrace them with compassion and support” instead of dragging them into “partisan politics.”

He also highlighted the danger of political division.

"Arguably, the most important threat the United States faces is not that of Russia, Iran, North Korea, or even Chinese competition, or ISIS, it's parochialism here at home,” Petraeus said. “[It] is preventing us from resolving issues that could allow us to capitalize on extraordinary opportunities.”

“We need to re-learn the word of compromise,” he said. “We need to take the volume down.”

Petraeus said he knows Kelly well and believes the White House chief of staff will figure out how to do just that.

"I have to think that this weekend he's sitting at home or in the White House trying to figure out how to turn down the volume, how to get this behind us, and how to focus on what really is important to the country over all," Petraeus said.

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