Editorial: Trump will upend war crime rules if he pardons military misconduct
Contemplating, much less issuing such pardons, is an insult to U.S. troops and a betrayal of American credos on military conduct. Excusing the crimes will worry allies concerned about reliable behavior, embolden terrorists to respond even more brutally, and dishearten this country’s soldiers who strain to follow the rules of engagement in violent conflict.
If the president acts, he’ll essentially cancel the ideals of personal responsibility and military justice. Soldiers will know that if they disregard the rules, the White House will cancel any punishment and absolve them. This country would cede the moral high ground on wartime conduct.
Trump has already shown his inclination. He pardoned an Army lieutenant who stripped a prisoner naked and shot him after questioning in Iraq in 2008. The cases now rumored to be on the president’s desk include the upcoming trial of a Navy SEAL accused of shooting civilians, an Army major charged with killing an unarmed Afghan, and three Marine snipers who urinated on the body of a dead Afghan fighter. The cases have become supercharged with claims of unfair punishment by commentators on Fox News, Trump’s favorite media source.
The prospect of these pardons is drawing noteworthy critics. Top military leaders including Gen. Charles Krulak, the former commandant of the Marine Corps, and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, past chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are cautioning Trump not to interfere. Issuing pardons will send the wrong messages on war crimes, discipline and laws on armed conflict, they suggest.
In addition, Trump appears to be reversing the usual order of pardons. Instead of cases passed to White House for review, these are being ordered up by Trump on a hurry-up basis, likely timed for the ceremony-laden moment of Memorial Day.
Rushing these undeserved pardons would be a disgrace. The president should check his impulse and leave the military commanders in charge.
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