Is Donald Trump preparing amnesty for soldiers accused of war crimes?
DONALD TRUMP is reportedly considering a Memorial Day pardon for several American soldiers accused of killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. As is so often the case with Mr. Trump, the issues seem to have come to his attention via Fox News. The accused soldiers have been promoted by hosts including Pete Hegseth, himself an Afghanistan and Iraq war vet, as “men who went into the places most dangerous person in the world with a job to protect us and made hard calls accidentally in the moment.” It’s a familiar frame for Fox: lawyer versus hero, activist versus cop, political correctness about the harsh realities of a kill-or-be-killed world.
Iraq and Afghanistan were indeed environments where fighters were hard-pressed to distinguish snipers from bystanders, or passengers from car bombs, and had to make decisions to do it quickly. But most of the cases that could be under investigation by Mr. Trump are not based on prosecutors estimating heroes from a place of safety. Instead, they are based on the qualifications of their comrades in arms.
The most prominent defendant is Edward Gallagher, a decorated Navy SEAL platoon leader accused of killing an Islamic State prisoner during the siege of Mosul in 2017. He faces a court-martial later this month. . The case against him is based on evidence from the joint service SEALS, who say that he shot civilians at random and threatened them. Clint Lorance, an Army lieutenant commander in Afghanistan who is serving a 19-year sentence for his role in the 2012 killing of two unarmed Afghans, was also denied by his subordinates. leadership, who said he gave them orders to shoot civilians which they did not. t think it was a threat.
The defenders of these people and the other accused are offering justification as to why their husbands testified against them. Mr. Gallagher’s lawyer, for example, says that the men who were tricked out as “pussies” by their strict leader were disillusioned. Scams, questionable informants, and graft are no more preventable in the military justice system than they can be in the civilian system. But most veterans find these situations long. Units are compact. Complaining against a leader may be common, but it is almost unheard of for a leader to be so unpopular that his men would set up a story against him – especially when he erred because being too aggressive. “A platoon leader who is willing to loosen the reins a little bit and let his subordinates go after the enemy aggressively is going to be a popular guy,” an Afghan vet said of Mr. Lorance on Task and Purpose, a popular military blog.
Pardoning people who are accused by their fellow soldiers and then convicted could do serious damage to the military justice system and America’s standing. It is already extremely difficult for a prosecutor to recreate a shooting incident in a war zone and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooter acted maliciously and was not in reasonable fear of his life. Only the worst criminals, those who were terrible enough to shock their own comrades, come to trial. If even the worst of bad apples can be forgiven, why would anyone come forward? What hope does the US military justice system have to prevent war crimes in the first place?
Many of the famous ex-officers are horrified. Sen. Barry McCaffrey, a longtime Trump critic, says the circumvention of military justice sends a “terrible signal.” Even some of Trump’s allies, such as Dan Crenshaw, a Republican congressman and former SEAL, say a pardon should only be considered after evidence is produced in court.
American leaders have long grappled with the damage civilian casualties have done to missions that depended on winning the trust and cooperation of Iraqis and Afghans. In Iraq, for example, American and other foreign forces were responsible for perhaps 10-15% of the approximately 180-200,000 civilian deaths recorded by the Iraq Organization Group, an NGO. Most of these were probably misjudgments or accidental killings, not deliberate killings of non-combatants. But your correspondent, who lived in Baghdad from 2003 to 2007, found that although Iraq was statistically at greater risk from militias and insurgents, they often had a particular terror of the Americans, a force a stranger who could throw the family life out of whack for a moment. lack of attention or impatience in traffic. Generals like David Petraeus, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency and America’s commander in Afghanistan, regularly urged the troops to make mistakes when it came to opening fire. . Critics of Mr. Trump’s fake pardon say it sends a signal to both American troops and the countries that might host them that America isn’t so worried about civilian deaths after all.
But with Iraq and Afghanistan increasingly seen as failures, Americans are less concerned about the readiness of the military to fight wars. Some on the right treat the mere suggestion of war crimes as an insult to the American hero. The left tends to see the crime in the war itself, not the details of the shooting. Americans who care about more limited weapons, even if that means more effective weapons, may be thin on the ground.