The New York Times reported this weekend that Donald Trump is considering granting pardons to a number of convicted and accused war criminals who are serving or have served in the U.S. military. One would involve the ongoing case of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who is set to stand trial shortly on war crimes charges that include murdering a prisoner of war with a knife and shooting a young woman and an elderly man (both seemingly unarmed civilians) with a sniper rifle.
As the Military Times writes, Gallagher’s cause has been taken up by “several conservative House members who call his prosecution an unjust second-guessing of the confusion and chaos of the battlefield.” (One of them, Duncan Hunter, is himself under indictment on a number of fraud-related charges.) The SEAL’s supporters also include Fox News pundit Pete Hegseth, an Army veteran who is known to have Trump’s ear. On Monday, Hegseth brought up the Times report on air and praised the potential pardons in similar terms, saying that “warriors” shouldn’t be labeled as “war criminals” simply because they made “tough calls on a moment’s notice”:
Does Donald Trump agree with this fog-of-war reasoning? The evidence suggests that he doesn’t, and that he actually supports service members who have been accused of war crimes because he believes that the U.S. should intentionally engage in practices that are considered war crimes under the law. During the 2016 campaign, for example, Trump said that:
• The U.S. should “torture” terrorism suspects via techniques including waterboarding and other practices “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
• The U.S. should execute Muslim prisoners of war using bullets dipped in pigs’ blood.
• The U.S. should have seized Iraq’s oil reserves after conquering the country.
• The U.S. should target and kill the family members of suspected terrorists.
It’s likely that the official paperwork Attorney General William Barr comes up with to justify the potentially impending set of pardons, and the statements that the White House press office releases to announce them, will judiciously avoid literally endorsing violations of international law. But all you really have to do to figure out how the president wants U.S. service members to behave is to listen to the words that come out of his mouth.