I’ve been trying to articulate for days how deeply upset I am about the prospect of the President systematically pardoning people who have been convicted or are being tried for committing war crimes.
I think what it comes down to is this. Like all human beings, we can make mistakes. War is an incredibly messy and terrible business. It involves the state sending young men and women to kill on our behalf for the goals of the state.
The only thing that makes that tolerable is that on the whole, with a few notable exceptions, we try to act as the “good guys.” I learned about the laws of land warfare in basic training before I ever touched a weapon. They taught us about professionalism, about what kinds of orders were legal, and what kinds of orders should not only be ignored, but reported to the appropriate authorities.
We were taught that once a prisoner is on our custody, its *required* that you provide them with food and shelter and the same standard of medical care that you would give your own troops. We were taught to follow rules of engagement, to follow orders, to stay professional. To follow a professional code of ethics.
Pardoning war criminals undermines those ethics and that professionalism. Understand, we’re not talking about guys who made a mistake on a chaotic battlefield. We’re talking about guys who were reported by their own peers, who face judgment in front of a military jury. We’re talking about a servicemember who stands accused by his own men of randomly shooting civilians including at least one little girl.
We’re talking about at least one military member who took a captured prisoner out into the desert, made him strip, and stabbed him to death. My grandfather was a prisoner of war, and gave an affidavit for a war crimes trial in 1945. I don’t remember, because I was 3 when he died, and my children never met him. He was still a relatively young man when he passed away, but from what my great-aunt told me as a child, his health was wrecked by the three years he spent as a prisoner of war.
Here’s what I learned in the Army:
We don’t execute prisoners without trial.
We don’t murder children.
When atrocities happen, as they inevitably do in war, we put those responsible on trial.
Without that veneer of professionalism, of ethical standards, what is there to distinguish us from the Taliban? If we can’t follow rules of engagement, if we can’t treat prisoners with humanity, if we can’t be expected to refrain from murdering children, then how are we different from the lunatics who broadcast beheadings on youtube?
Encouraging war crimes isn’t a policy decision. It’s not left/right/own the liberals thing. It undercuts everything our military works for, it disgraces and dishonors the millions of Americans who have served while doing the right thing. I’m furious about it, more than anything else this administration has done or tried to do.