November 27, 2019


President Trump recently issued pardons to three U.S. servicemen accused of crimes during wartime: U.S. Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, convicted in August 2013 on two counts of second-degree murder for ordering soldiers in his platoon to open fire at three men on a motorcycle in southern Afghanistan in July 2012; U.S. Army Major Matthew Golsteyn, a Special Forces officer who pleaded not guilty to the charge of killing an unarmed Taliban bomb maker; and Navy Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, who, although cleared of the murder of an insurgent, was demoted for posing with an enemy corpse.

Of course, as in all things having to do with Trump, his actions have elicited a great deal of pushback. His critics have argued that by issuing these pardons, he condones the commission of “heinous war crimes” by Americans; that his pardons constituted rogue actions external to the justice system; that he was undermining “good order and discipline in the military; and that the pardons damaged U.S. standing abroad, especially among allies. But as my old friend Charlie Dunlap, a retired Air Force Major General and staff judge advocate has argued, most of these claims are not supported by the facts.

In the cases of the individuals who Trump pardoned—as is usually the case in such instances—the facts are more complicated than first reported. For one thing, none of the individuals were charged as “war crimes” or “atrocities” but with standard criminal offenses, such as murder. As Dunlop observes, this relieves the prosecution from the burden of having to prove the additional elements needed to legally turn such alleged wrongdoing into “war” crimes.

Nonetheless, all we hear is “Trump pardoned war criminals,” because the press is largely garbage. But do read the whole thing.

Plus, from Dunlap: “In a democracy, elected civilian leaders ought to be exercising oversight over the activities of the armed forces, including the justice system that provides accountability for those forces. Among other things, when properly done civilian oversight can serve as a bulwark against unfairness in the ranks. It doesn’t hurt for military leaders to be reminded from time to time that their civilian boss is watching.”

Here’s the entire Dunlap post.

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