A week ago, President Trump pardoned former First Lieutenant Michael Behenna (see Left Goes Crazy As Trump Pardons Unjustly Convicted Soldier. Now the word is circulating that President Trump is considering more pardons of members of the US who were convicted of war crimes.
There is no doubt Mr. Trump is reviewing other cases. The president has said he will review the case of Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, who faces murder charges in connection with the 2010 death of a man who Maj. Golsteyn believed was a Taliban bombmaker.
“At the request of many, I will be reviewing the case of a ‘U.S. Military hero,’ Major Matt Golsteyn, who is charged with murder,” the president tweeted in December. “He could face the death penalty from our own government after he admitted to killing a terrorist bomb maker while overseas.”
Advocates and lawmakers also are pushing for a pardon of Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was convicted of murder in connection with the 2012 deaths of two Afghan men. Lorance was sentenced to 19 years in prison for his role in the incident.
I’m ambivalent about the Golsteyn case (see President Trump Vows To Review High Profile War Crimes Case and Army Punishes Hero After Investigation Clears Him) but Lorance was railroaded by a command that was interested in making a political example of a young man in a difficult situation.
When President Trump announced the pardon, you had the usually befouled panties from the usual suspects…people who would be bitching about Trump if he had refused to grant a pardon. Here’s a sampling:
“This pardon is a presidential endorsement of a murder that violated the military’s own code of justice,” Hina Shamsi, the ACLU’s national security project director, said in a statement first reported by the Hill.
“The military appeals court found Behenna disobeyed orders, became the aggressor against his prisoner, and had no justification for killing a naked, unarmed Iraqi man in the desert, away from an actual battlefield. Trump, as commander in chief, and top military leaders should prevent war crimes, not endorse or excuse them,” Shamsi said in her statement.
And there is this kind of bullsh** that shows, in very stark terms, the difference between some civilian who served in the military and a soldier:
In at least three instances, then, our commander in chief appears to have preferred to overlook serious war crimes in favor of a warped notion of patriotism and heroism. Trump subscribes to a “bad things happen in war” mentality — odd for a man who actively avoided military service.
This attitude is incredibly dangerous. It doesn’t just undermine the enforcement of military justice; it also sends a message to our armed forces about just what kind of conduct the United States takes seriously.
No reasonable person would claim that Trump is Hitler or that the U.S. military is the German army in World War II. Cases like those stand out as so horrific precisely because the American military has the strong ethical foundation the Wehrmacht lacked and generally does not commit war crimes. But the dynamics of units in combat at ground level can be strikingly similar across time and space, and so we ignore historical lessons at our peril…
Leaders are constantly making policy, by what they do — and by what they don’t do. Trump’s posture endangers our deployed men and women by betraying the trust of host nations that we will prosecute those rare individuals who commit crimes against their people.
Naturally, a Hitler reference.
Let’s be serious here.
Behenna was railroaded. Military prosecutors hid exculpatory information, including information provided by the government’s own forensics expert who became a whistleblower when he found his findings were not shared with the defense. Over 30 retired generals and admirals had petitioned for Behenna’s release so the President was actually responding to the advice he was receiving from actual warfighters.
Beyond Behenna, let’s look at the record. On March 16, 1968 a rifle company commanded by CPT Ernest Medina–Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry–entered the village of My Lai. When all was said and done, one rifle platoon led by Lieutenant William Calley had killed, at a minimum, 347 Vietnamese civilians. Calley was tried by court-martial. He received a life sentence. The convening authority reduced the sentence to 20 years. Calley served three months in the US Army Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth before being moved to house arrest at Fort Benning, GA. He was paroled after serving 3 years and 6 months.
Did the US Army go on to be a hotbed of war crimes? Of course not.
On April 29, 1945, 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division liberated the Dachau concentration camp. An investigation indicated that the SS men were sorted out from the Heeres (or Wehrmacht, if you will) soldiers and summarily executed. There are claims that as many as 500 were killed but the number seems to be more like a couple of dozen. The unit also let released prisoners take vengeance on the Germans. Nothing happened.
It is estimated that as many as 11,000 German women were raped by US forces during the invasion of Germany through about 1947. How many trials were there for rape of German women during that period? If you guessed zero, you’d be close to correct.
In Charles McDonald’s book “Company Commander” (a must-read on small unit tactics and leadership) he admits that he knew his men who were detailed to escort prisoners to the rear routinely killed the prisoners “trying to escape” because they wanted to shorten their trip and reduce their personal exposure to danger. He did nothing with his knowledge and, guess what, his company didn’t descend into a gang of murderous thugs.
On July 14, 1943, the 45th Division’s 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry Regiment carried out two massacres of German and Italian prisoners of war near Biscari, Sicily.
In the first, Sergeant Horace West was assigned to escort 2 German and 35 Italian prisoners to the rear. He lined them up at a roadside ditch and shot them. In the second incident, Captain John Compton detailed 11 of his soldiers to execute 36 Italian prisoners. There was nothing at all ambiguous about the circumstances. Both men were court-martialed. Compton was acquitted and returned to duty, his defense was that he was just following orders (he’d heard one of Patton’s motivational speeches, seriously). West was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge and life at hard labor. In November 1944, he was released from prison, reinstated in the Army, and eventually left with an honorable discharge.
Let’s be clear. Behenna did not get off. The man had his career taken away and he served five years for an offense that rated non-judicial punishment. And leniency towards soldiers convicted of war crimes is not only an American tradition, there is no evidence that it is corrosive of discipline and a great deal of evidence that it simply makes no difference.
War is one of the most ambiguous of human endeavors and actions are taken that make sense at the time but will not withstand the scrutiny of some steely-eyed, deodorized and bathed prosecutor, particularly if they are out to make a name for themselves or an example of you. The purpose of executive clemency is to temper justice with mercy and to recognize the totality of circumstances. What President Trump is doing is legal, it is within the tradition of the US military and it will not turn our soldiers into soulless monsters. These attacks are profoundly dishonest and thankfully transparent. The people involved hate Trump and so whatever he does is bad and reminiscent of Hitler.