Pardoned soldiers: Are they war criminals?
President Trump wants war criminals to be “treated as heroes,” said Graeme Wood in TheAtlantic.com. Last week, he pardoned two soldiers accused or convicted of murder, and reversed the demotion of a third. One pardon went to Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had served six years of a 19-year sentence for ordering his platoon to fire on three unarmed Afghan motorcyclists in 2012, killing two. Another pardon went to Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, accused of shooting an Afghan prisoner in 2010 and secretly burning his remains. Trump also restored the rank of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was recently acquitted of murdering civilians but convicted of taking trophy photos with a dead teenage ISIS prisoner, bragging to friends he’d executed him with a hunting knife. Defense Secretary Mark Esper adamantly opposed the pardons, which will only lead to more bad behavior and tell our enemies they’re “suckers” if they don’t also behave like savages.
Some former military officials are “applauding” the pardons, said West Point professor Michael Robinson in WashingtonPost.com. They contend that battlefield troops are “unduly constrained” in the fog of war by complex rules. Trump was likely persuaded to issue pardons by conservative lawmakers and Fox News, which heavily lobbied for Lorance, Golsteyn, and Gallagher. Democrats, on the other hand, have “suicidal” expectations for U.S. troops, said Lorance’s attorney Don Brown in WashingtonTimes.com. Lorance’s platoon had previously been attacked by motorcycle bombers, and with “seconds to act,” Lorance ordered his men to fire. The riders they shot turned out to be Taliban bomb makers. As Trump said, “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!”
“Is that really how Trump views the U.S. military?” asked Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Elliot Ackerman in Time.com. There’s a profound difference between “killing machines” and soldiers, whose “confidence to fight” comes from hard-earned discipline and unit cohesion. Soldiers who kill unarmed civilians in defiance of their training and their superiors “defile the uniform.” Pardoning them endangers U.S. troops, said former Army intelligence officer Benjamin Haas in The New York Times. When our soldiers kill civilians out of vengeance, it can turn the local population against them—and lead to attacks on our troops. Trump understands none of this, and “should have left the military justice system to do its job.”