On Monday, we remembered and honored the men and women of the U.S. military who made the ultimate sacrifice around the world in the name of the greatest of our American values, freedom.
Whether the war or conflict they were engaged in was wise or necessary, they answered a call to service and were doing their jobs. And championing the greatest discipline and character military leaders instilled in them, the overwhelming majority of them did their country proud.
The idea that a few bad apples would distort and pervert those values, commit war crimes and then be excused of them is abhorrent and spits in the face of those who died with honor. And yet, that appears to be in the works.
According to recent reporting from The New York Times and CBS News, President Trump is considering pardons for a handful of military members convicted or accused of murder and other war crimes on or around Memorial Day.
Among the cases:
•Nicholas Slatten, a former Blackwater security contractor, recently convicted of shooting and killing more than a dozen unarmed Iraqis in 2007.
•Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who stands accused of murder after executing a suspected Taliban bomb-maker in Afghanistan, who had been ordered to be released following an interrogation.
•Navy SEALs Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who is scheduled to stand trial for killing unarmed civilians in Iraq. Those instances included gunning down a little girl and an old man from his sniper’s nest and taking a knife to a teenage ISIS member who was in U.S. soldiers’ custody and later bragging about it.
•A group of Marines captured on video urinating on dead Taliban fighters.
In times of war, some who started out with noble intentions have strayed and crossed the line of becoming cold-blooded murderers and monsters. Many of the most infamous episodes in U.S. military history occurred when wars like the ones in Vietnam and Iraq went horribly wrong. It’s important these instances be used as cautionary tales, not whitewashed by political considerations.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, whether he meant it or not, Trump campaigned on having “no more stupid wars.” It’s hard to think of a more unnecessary one than the Iraq War, pushed on us by the Bush administration through lies and exaggeration and supported by Republicans and Democrats who dismissed warnings of the consequences and chose political posturing in the intermediate aftermath of 9/11. It led to two of the aforementioned cases and several other horrible episodes like Abu Ghraib.
Trump has proven willing to issue pardons in politically-charged cases before, and The New York Times notes that conservative lawmakers and media personalities have been championing the pardons of Gallagher, Slatten and Golestyn, who they view as being unfairly maligned and punished for “trying to do their job,” and have pushed for Trump to intervene.
Earlier this month, Trump pardoned Army First Lt. Michael Behenna, who was convicted of killing an Iraqi during an interrogation in 2008. Behenna ordered the man to strip off his clothes before shooting him.
Take these bad stories and consider the thousands and thousands more good ones, where good men and women died while serving their country honorably.
Consider the message that issuing these pardons would send and the potential consequences. It would tarnish our nation’s reputation around the world, make it harder to get buy-in from other nations in future conflicts and put an even bigger target on the backs of our men and women overseas. The message that our commander-in-chief believes our servicemen who commit atrocities shouldn’t be held accountable will be exploited by terrorist groups for propaganda purposes, putting more American lives at risk.
It fully dishonors the memories of the men and women we honor on Memorial Day.
If this is indeed his plan, I hope the president strongly reconsiders.
Scott Thompson is editor of the Barrow News-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.