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Trump’s Pardon of War Crimes Erodes Trust in Military

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Everyone serving in the U.S. military, from privates to generals, is expected to adhere to the highest standards of conduct, on the battlefield and off. Some do go astray, in matters both minor and major, but the military-justice system exists to hold them accountable for their actions.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice dates to 1950 and serves as the foundation for military law. Its stated purpose is “to promote justice, to assist in maintaining good order and discipline in the armed forces [and] to promote efficiency and effectiveness in the military establishment … ” Pardoning those who have been accused or convicted of serious crimes would undermine the military-justice system.

Those who serve this country in uniform, who are entrusted to operate and carry weapons and are trained and authorized to use deadly force, must adhere to the highest standards of discipline and conduct, and strictly follow the lawful orders they are given. Those who fail in their duties and responsibilities must be held accountable for their decisions and actions. They are accorded due process through the UCMJ and military-justice system, and held accountable by men and women who also serve in the profession of arms.

In the civilian courts, a “jury of your peers” might include accountants, electricians, teachers, factory workers, and the self-employed. In the military system, the jury in a court-martial proceeding in composed of fellow service members, members of the same challenging profession, with similar training and experiences. Those convicted by a military judge, or members of a court-martial panel, have truly been judged by a jury of their peers.

Pardoning military war criminals is a departure from our values, and sanctions the mistreatment of combatants without national accountability.

Those convicted of committing crimes that violate the law of war, who used their weapons to wantonly harm innocents or those under their care—the wounded, sick, prisoners, or detainees—violated their oaths and the sacred trust placed in them. Pardoning them sends a signal to the entire force as well as to our allies and adversaries that the U.S. military can’t be trusted to live up to its values and obligations. This erosion of trust exposes those who volunteer to serve in our armed forces, today and into the future, to greater risk.

If the governments of those countries in which U.S. service members operate do not believe our military-justice system will hold accountable those convicted of wrongdoing while on their soil, they will increasingly seek to arrest, imprison, and try those service members in their own courts. That is an outcome we cannot accept, and the commander in chief should not take actions that would cause those governments to consider such steps.

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