‘Grand American Tradition of Immunizing Its War Criminals’ Continues as Trump Pardons US Soldiers

“A shameful use of presidential powers,” said the ACLU. “It sends a clear message of disrespect for the law, morality, the military justice system, and those in the military who abide by the laws of war.”

By Jon Queally, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 11-16-2019

President Donald J. Trump alongside First Lady Melania Trump and members of the U.S. military in this file image posted to a government website to commemorate Veterans Day. (Photo: WhiteHouse.gov)

Continuing what critics of U.S. imperialism have long said is a pattern of refusing accountability for violations of international law and a litany of war crimes over recent decades, President Donald Trump on Friday night issued full pardons for three U.S. soldiers either accused or convicted of serious criminal abuses related to their military service.

Outrage among peace activists and opponents of the U.S. war machine was immediate.

“Utterly shameful,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.

“With this use of his powers, Trump has sent a clear message of disrespect for law, morality, the military justice system, and those in the military who abide by the laws of war,” said Shamsi. “I would include the victims of these crimes but have no illusion he cares for them.”

Journalist and activist Glenn Greenwald, longtime critic of the so-called “global war on terror” and repeated U.S. violations of international law, tweeted: “The grand American tradition of immunizing its war criminals—while preaching morality to the world—continues with these vile pardons by Trump.”

According to the Washington Post, which first reported the pardons:

The service members were notified by Trump over the phone late Friday afternoon, according to lawyers for Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn and former Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the SEAL. Golsteyn faced a murder trial scheduled for next year, while Gallagher recently was acquitted of murder and convicted of posing with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter in Iraq.

The third service member, former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, was expected to be released Friday night from prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2013 and sentenced to 19 years for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three men in Afghanistan.

Golsteyn and Lorance received full pardons, while the president will direct the Navy to restore Gallagher to his previous rank before he retires, the White House said. His demotion marked the only significant penalty he received following his acquittal on the murder charge.

As the Post points out, the pardons were issued against the stated desires of the Pentagon. In the case of Lorance, as the New York Times reports, it was members of the officer’s own unit that turned against him after a massacre in Afghanistan. “Mr. Lorance was a rookie Army lieutenant who had been in command of a platoon in Afghanistan for two days in July 2012 when he ordered his troops to fire on unarmed villagers who posed no threat, killing two men,” the Times reports. “He then called in false reports over the radio to cover up what had happened. He was immediately turned in by his own men.”

Journalist Akmal Dawi, in a tweet, said: “The Trump admin has blocked [the International Criminal Court’s] investigations into war crimes in Afghanistan, now POTUS has pardoned individuals accused of murdering Afghans.” The U.S. government, he added, “doesn’t even record Afghan civilian casualties as if they don’t even happen.”

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