Working to change the rules of war

Originally Posted on The Triangle via UWIRE

In July of 2012, amid the dry heat of southern Afghanistan, first Lt. Clint Lorance ordered his soldiers to fire on three unarmed Afghan motorcyclists, killing two and wounding one. As a result of his actions, Lorance was found guilty of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice. For the past six years, Lorance has been in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

That is, until now.

Back in Nov. 2019, Lorance appeared on “Fox & Friends” after President Trump pardoned him. When asked what Lorance would like to say to the President, he turned to the camera and said, “I love you, sir.”

The idea of a convicted war criminal directly thanking the leader of the United States for freeing him should strike fear into every single American. Although the modern rules of war came from the Geneva Convention of 1864, we can trace the concept of “battlefield behavior” all the way back to ancient civilizations. From the very beginning of time, even when we were at war, human beings have abided by certain laws and norms with respect to the fundamental dignity that comes with any life.

But with Trump’s pardon record, it seems that he is intent on challenging this age-old tradition, and with it, the idea that all human life holds value.

Lorance isn’t even the worst of Trump’s pardon list.

The case of Chief Edward Gallagher is particularly gruesome. Gallagher stabbed a teenage ISIS militant multiple times while the teen was in surgery and then proceeded to threaten his subordinates against reporting him. Of course, this isn’t all. Gallagher also shot down an elderly man and a school-age girl with a sniper rifle. Not to mention, his hobby of showering neighborhoods with machine-gun fire without any clear targets.

The Navy’s top admiral demoted Gallagher because of his actions, but President Trump promptly restored Gallagher to his original position, essentially sending the message that actions don’t have consequences.

Finally, and perhaps most frightening of all, was the pardon issued to Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn for killing an unarmed Afghan man. Before the case against Golsteyn was even heard, Trump pardoned him. The system didn’t even have the chance to work before Trump intervened.

With everything happening on our national political stage, it’s hard to recognize what these pardons are, but it is important we don’t miss it. They are an absolute rejection of the military judicial process and disregard for the war laws designed to dignify human life.

And this sets a terrifying precedent for the future of warfare, incites the United States’ budding reputation as a reckless bully and of course, and reduces the military to a mere political tool.

If the President of the United States is pardoning war criminals, it sends the message that the American military has no regard for international cooperation. Where does that leave us on the global stage and what does it reflect about American society today?

If we look to the president’s Twitter account,he says: “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill.” This sentiment isn’t only grossly untrue, but it also reveals that the president has no idea what he’s talking about.

For a man who is supposed to be the Commander in Chief, he knows surprisingly little about how military personnel are expected to act. As per the Law of Armed Conflict, there are certain tenets that are meant to be observed at all times. Things like don’t torture prisoners, engage with only enemy combatants and treat civilians humanely don’t seem like very controversial ideas, and yet here we are.

Personally, I have a hard time believing that our president pardoned these men in the naive spirit of proud Americanism. No, these were calculated decisions. Let’s give the president some credit; he is not as stupid as we want to think he is. Donald Trump is a man who thrives in chaos.

By pardoning these men, the president makes it clear that in Trump’s America, human life is secondary to “winning.” The lives of non-Americans are meaningless, particularly when they get in the way of this goal. By establishing this message, Trump creates a fundamental divide between those he deems to fit his definition of American and everyone else.

And of course, the timing of these three pardons could not have been worse. Perhaps it was a coincidence that Trump pardoned three war criminals on the same day that his ally Roger Stone was convicted or the second day of the impeachment inquiry, but it would be a fairly large coincidence.

These pardons aren’t just another “crazy” thing Trump has done. It is the systematic next step in establishing the difference between “real” Americans and the “others.” Excusing these three men says that it is okay to succumb to our most base instincts — acting brutally.

But make no mistake, acting on our most primeval motivations will only lead to the fundamental breakdown of American society as we know it. Fundamentally, we must recognize that if we as a people accept senseless murder on the basis of the enemy being “other” we are moving closer and closer to the downfall of our own society.

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