What does it say about our nation when we would consider forgiving war criminals?
President Trump has apparently said that he wants to give presidential pardons, timed for Memorial Day.
To war criminals. U.S. soldiers accused of heinous acts.
According to published reports, last year, a federal jury in Washington convicted Nicholas Slatten, a former security contractor, of first-degree murder for his role in killing one of 14 Iraqi civilians who died in 2007 in a shooting that also injured more than a dozen others.
Matthew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret, was charged late last year with the murder of an unarmed Afghan man during a 2010 deployment.
Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq, was reported to authorities by his own men, who witnessed him “stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death,” “picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost” and “indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.”
This is on Trump’s radar but really no one else’s.
This motion toward forgiveness is not supported by the public at large, nor even military leaders. “Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of U.S. service members accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the law of armed conflict seriously,” Martin Dempsey, a retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Twitter.
So then why? Politics? Spite?
Democratic presidential aspirant Pete Buttigieg, a war veteran, said Thursday that he thinks it is “disgusting” Trump would consider pardons for military members accused or convicted of war crimes.
Buttigieg argued that it’s important to maintain the credibility of the U.S. military justice system. “If the president blows a hole in that, he is blowing a hole in the military, and he is putting troops’ lives at risk.”
Buttigieg said that during his military service, “the flag on my shoulder represented a country that kept its word. . . . If we lose that, nothing will keep us safe.”
But apparently there is a vocal minority.
Republican lawmakers and conservative television personalities have lobbied in support of the accused war criminals. They maintain that mistakes might have been made in the name of patriotism.
And Trump seems to be listening.
As one columnist noted: The president likes “tough” people and “tough” action, where “tough” is a euphemism for violent.
“I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people,” Trump said in a March interview with Breitbart News, in a warning to left-wing protesters. “But they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
In 2017, Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff convicted of contempt of court for refusing to end his racial profiling of the state’s Latino residents. Trump praised Arpaio as “an outstanding sheriff” and a “great American patriot.”
So it would appear that for Trump toughness is a virtue – even if it means cruelty and brutality.
In these topsy-turvy times where reality seems to be skewed toward further divisiveness and manufactured scenarios (let’s call it ‘fake politics’), this president seems to want to allow for violence as a means of control and as a method of arbitration. (Think, immigration policy, too.)
The law is (regrettably in this case) clear: The president of the United States can issue pardons.
That does not mean that he should, especially in an election year when he needs the support of his military and the war machine.
Sometimes we can forgive, but in situations as tenuous as the ones in which these war criminals partook, how could we ever forget?