Republicans Stand by a President Who Pardons Accused War Criminals

Just when you thought Donald Trump had smashed through every last guardrail of American democracy, he finds new frontiers in degradation.

In pardoning accused war criminals, Trump achieves that new low, marking a dangerous precedent for our military and scarring, perhaps irreparably, our good name and moral standing in the world.

Outrage at this degradation has gotten lost in the whirlwind of impeachment — House Democrats are reportedly drawing up Articles of Impeachment as I write — but, no matter: It is important to state for the record one’s protest. In a nearly three-year tenure of unparalleled egregiousness, Trump got creative in his malevolence with this contrived show of support for “our boys.”

At issue: Trump gave full pardons to Maj. Mathew L. Goldsteyn, an Army Special Forces officer who faced murder charges for killing an unarmed Afghan whom he believed was a Taliban bomb-maker, and to Clint Lorance, a former Army lieutenant serving a 19-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth for killing two Afghan civilians.

Receiving the most media play is Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL cited for multiple charges — shooting civilians in Iraq, killing a captive enemy fighter with a hunting knife, and threatening to kill fellow SEALs if they reported him. Gallagher was acquitted by a military jury of all charges except a minor one: bringing discredit to the armed forces by posing for a photo with the corpse of a captive he was accused of killing. When the Navy moved to demote Gallagher and remove his SEAL Trident pin, Trump came to his rescue, blocking the demotion.

Trump’s defense? “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!” A Fox News host commended Trump’s “fidelity to the war fighter,” saying “The benefit of the doubt should go to the guys pulling the trigger.” Trump claims he is “standing up for three great warriors against the deep state.” So much for the Geneva Conventions; Trump is now the final arbiter of military justice.

And now we learn: Trump will campaign with these accused war criminals, using them as props in his bid for re-election in 2020! Starting, already, last Sunday night, at a fundraiser in Florida (also here).

About which,, a political action committee founded by Iraq war veterans in 2006, writes: “If we weren’t three years into this astonishingly corrupt administration, we would find this next sentence hard to believe: President Donald Trump brought accused war criminals he pardoned to a closed-door fundraiser….as his honorable guests” — the latest in a “slew of unacceptable behavior from our Commander in Chief that makes a mockery of our men and women serving our country.”

Up is down, day is night, wrong is right to this amoral president. Now accused war criminals are “honorable” and paraded in a presidential campaign as “heroes”?

While those in uniform and retired are up in arms about the implications of Trump’s pardon of war crimes for “good order and discipline” and military justice — it should be noted the illegal actions of Gallagher and Goldsteyn were reported by their own platoon members — the leadership has not acquitted itself well here. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper fired the Navy Secretary for going outside the chain of command to work with the White House to finesse the Gallagher case. Dismayingly, the Secretary of Defense himself has not disavowed his Commander-in-Chief’s unpardonable pardons.

Making the military’s proper case is Gen. Martin Dempsey, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman: “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. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us.”

In all this, the last line of defense to prevent the further degradation of military standards and America’s moral reputation lies in the political realm, with Trump’s party colleagues — the Congressional Republicans. Republicans have long held themselves out as the nation’s moral guardians and, as to the military, their staunchest supporters, quick to salute the troops’ valor and sacrifice. How often have Republicans harangued Democrats for “leading from behind” and for flying “the white flag of surrender?

Sadly, about Trump’s pardon of accused war criminals, Republicans are themselves flying the white flag of surrender. Worse, they have not even mounted a fight of any kind, or indicated any plans to do so, either individually or as a collective, so fearful are they of Trump’s wrath. To his credit, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah has stepped up to declare it “unthinkable” to pardon someone “legitimately convicted of committing war crimes.” Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa has “issues” with such pardons.

I wonder: Have Republicans asked themselves, What kind of nation is it that Donald Trump envisions for us, where accused war criminals are deemed honorable….?

Biblical devotees that they claim they are, Republicans should ponder the sowing of iniquity. Surely individual Republicans, in their hearts, know full well their leader’s iniquity in his embrace of accused war criminals. (And they are wrong to mock Democrats for our upset over this matter.) Yet we see no Republican pushback to Trump, no argument, no Martin Luther “Here I stand, I can do no other” stance. And the likelihood is not great, as Republicans more and more identify with Trump’s cause, including his adherence to the debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that meddled in the 2016 election (and Russia will again in 2020).

What we are seeing are the consequences of the Republicans’ Faustian bargain with Trump: They are tethered together, deeply complicit in dishonor. And to think the United States of America, victor in World War II, convened the Nuremberg war crimes trials, setting the moral foundation for the postwar world….

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking of the impeachment inquiry, says Democrats must pursue it in a “prayerful” manner. Politicians always seek “a path” to take a specific action. I prayerfully ask Republicans to pray and to seek a path to restore America’s honor. They have the power to do so; will they find the courage?

Our times examined via politics, culture, morality. Author, "Can America Save Itself from Decline?" Playwright. Contributor, HuffPost.

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