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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/22/19

War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea

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Defendants in the dock at nuremberg trials.
Defendants in the dock at nuremberg trials.
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On May 16, 2008, near the town of Baiji in Iraq, 1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna, US Army, murdered a prisoner. That was the verdict of the jury in his 2009 court martial, anyway. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, but paroled in less than five. On May 6, 2019, US president Donald Trump pardoned Behenna.

As I write this, news reports indicate that Trump intends to celebrate Memorial Day by pardoning several other Americans convicted of (or accused of and not yet tried for) war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's a horrible idea for several reasons.

One reason is that it's morally repugnant to excuse the commission of crimes, especially violent crimes, for no other reason than that the criminal is a government employee.

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A second reason is that it is detrimental to the good order and and discipline of the US armed forces to excuse violations of law by American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

That phrasing is not random: "[D]isorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces" are themselves crimes under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Yes, Trump has absolute power to pardon under the US Constitution, but this would be an abuse of that power that conflicts with his duties as commander in chief.

A third reason is that pardons of this type essentially beg other governments to take matters into their own hands where allegations of war crimes by US military personnel arise.

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Among the US government's excuses for refusing to join the International Criminal Court, and for forcing agreements by other governments to exempt American troops from prosecution under their own laws, is that the United States cleans up after itself and holds its troops to at least as high a standard as would those other governments. These pardons would give lie to that claim and expose US troops to greater risk of future arrest and prosecution abroad.

Don't just take my word for these claims. Here's General Charles Krulak, former Commandant of the US Marine Corps:

"If President Trump issues indiscriminate pardons of individuals accused -- or convicted by their fellow servicemembers -- of war crimes, he relinquishes the United States' moral high ground and undermines the good order and discipline critical to winning on the battlefield."

And here's General Martin Dempsey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

"Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don't take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us."

After World War Two, the US and other governments which participated in victorious alliance versus the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan tried and punished -- up to and including execution -- German and Japanese soldiers accused of war crimes and the political leaders who ordered, encouraged, or excused those crimes.

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If the US doesn't hold itself to at least as high a standard, eventually someone else will.

 

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


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8 people are discussing this page, with 9 comments


Richard Pietrasz

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The US military has never taken the moral high ground, or even attempted to take it, since the US was officially recognized as an independent nation. Its first major war was the genocide of the Native Americans. Since then, occasionally the other guys were even worse, but that does not make US the good guys. Even the liberation of France in 1944/5 directly led to 30 years of horrendous war in Southeast Asia, with USA as a combatant starting in 1945.


If one reads the Constitution, offensive wars are not legal under US law.

Submitted on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 at 8:05:47 PM

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Thomas Knapp

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Just to be clear: The "moral high ground" comment is part of a quote from Charles Krulak, not something I wrote. I served with Krulak and liked the guy, but as far as the "moral high ground" history is concerned, I agree with you.

Submitted on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 at 8:23:41 PM

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George W.Reichel

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Not to mention the fact that some of the worst institutions and criminals of the Third Reich were incorporated into the US govt.Nuremberg was all for show,

Submitted on Thursday, May 23, 2019 at 10:53:09 AM

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Daniel Geery

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I would like to follow up on this, with remarkably solid evidence, but pretty much told Rob I wouldn't, after considerable back and forth. But I do encourage readers to look elsewhere, using another search engine than Google.

Submitted on Thursday, May 23, 2019 at 7:56:50 PM

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kappie

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trump is behaving like the dictator he is.the only important oeople to him are the rich and the military.Face the truth,the rule of law is dead in the US

Submitted on Thursday, May 23, 2019 at 1:44:54 PM

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Lance Ciepiela

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#NurembergCrimes - W Bush - The #CrimeOfAggression. W Bush was/is/remains "above the law", no investigations no impeachment, no prosecution for "crimes against peace", "war crimes", "crimes against humanity" ("directly responsible" for not holding W Bush "accountable" under our laws and treaties - the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who refused to hold impeachment hearings on the thirty five Articles of Impeachment for Bush and Cheney and Obama who never would hold Bush accountable under our laws treaties and justice system).

W Bush indicated he enjoyed "every moment" in office and wouldn't "change a thing" and showed/has "no remorse" whatsoever, except, of course, 9/11 "it wasn't the Iraqis", notwithstanding - 9/11 was #PrePlantedExplosives, which W Bush never investigated, nor did Congress investigate, and neither did Obama and Trump.

Submitted on Thursday, May 23, 2019 at 2:55:23 PM

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Paragraph 501 of Army Field Manual 27-10 states that a commander is legally responsible "if he has actual knowledge, or should have knowledge . . . that troops or other persons subject to his control are about to commit or have committed a war crime and he fails to take the necessary and reasonable steps to insure compliance with the law of war or to punish violators thereof." Perhaps the House should add the violation of Para 501 to Trumps articles of impeachment - when the time comes. He is the top commander of the military.


Submitted on Thursday, May 23, 2019 at 7:20:21 PM

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I would eliminate the word "perhaps," but I also fear the repercussions, such as Pence in office. Tulsi has expressed the same concern. He might well speak and sound better, but be far more lethal. My greater vision is to get Tulsi in office and do all we can to make that happen.


Has anyone got a better idea?

Submitted on Thursday, May 23, 2019 at 8:00:29 PM

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shad williams

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"If the US doesn't hold itself to at least as high a standard, eventually someone else will."

That statement certainly is chilling. It is the victors that decide the rules and punishments for former combatants.

Submitted on Friday, May 24, 2019 at 11:34:44 PM

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