The War Criminals I Have Known
November 20, 2019 8:47 AM   Subscribe

"Trump's clemencies were not just to exonerate three trigger-pullers, but to excuse all Americans."

As Trump pardons three war criminals, even over the protests of the military leadership and rank-and-file that reported and convicted them, Matt Farwell in The New Republic pulls back to look at the American war criminals who got away with it and what these pardons mean for all Americans:
It is hard for me to see much difference between the crimes of Gibbs and his kill-team and those of the two soldiers and one sailor the president just pardoned, other than the fact that Gibbs is still locked up and these guys aren’t. But again, that’s war for you. It’s random and unfair. It’s also hard for me to see why I should be any more upset about these men’s crimes than the criminal decisions of their leaders: What’s the difference between a soldier’s extrajudicial killing of an Afghan civilian with a grenade and a president’s extrajudicial killing of an American child with a drone? What’s the point of holding someone in uniform accountable for abusing a prisoner in Fallujah, when we’ll never hold anyone in the depleted uranium ammunition sales division accountable for abusing a whole generation of Iraqi children?
With friends like these, who needs enemies? In his classic post-Vietnam text On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, Dr. Norman F. Dixon recalls a post–World War II study of personality traits common among members of the Nazi SS. They were not ideological fanatics, as one might suspect, “but inadequate ‘little’ men for whom all the satisfactions provided by the SS organization were tailor-made—all-powerful father figures, rigid rules of loyalty and obedience, and ‘legitimate’ outlets for their hitherto pent-up and murderous hostility.”

With Trump’s latest pardons, maybe the United States is in fact undertaking a reconciliation with the “little” men and women of America who support the troops but know nothing of the war. For people who believe fervently in that passage repeated in the Gospels—“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit”—and who further believe that American wars must necessarily make good trees, the answer is simple: All the fruit must be good. Make it so—by edict, if you must. Everyone can congratulate themselves for rendering patriotic honors, and get back to the business at hand without questioning the more general war crimes of the past 20 years. Washington’s idea of looking at its warriors and wars is best typified in a just-concluded Kennedy Center exhibition of George W. Bush’s “Displays of Courage”: 66 of the former president’s creepy serial-killer-style painted portraits of soldiers maimed in the wars he started. Like Bush, Trump paints a false scene of American war and its war fighters, resplendent in their glory. It is an anamorphosis of what I know of war, a picture I can’t see myself or my war experience clearly in, and I’m glad for that.
At The Atlantic, Graeme Wood connects Trump's pardons to his larger mission of deregulation and unaccountability:
You might call this program a form of deregulation, parallel to the deregulation he has pushed in other sectors, including environmental protection and finance. Deregulation is much stupider in war than it is in those other fields. If you deregulate polluters, you may end up poisoning the environment—but at least the environment is inanimate, and does not arm itself reciprocally, to match the violence you freed yourself to commit against it. Battlefield enemies are different. ISIS is already willing to commit atrocities against Americans, but now more scrupulous rivals of the United States can reasonably infer that if they fight us according to the laws of armed conflict, they are suckers. One reason more than 80 countries allied to fight ISIS is that they flagrantly ignored these laws. Now we do too.
posted by Ouverture (24 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
There is no excuse. There is no word that I can come up with to convey my contempt for people who support this. These war criminals were convicted by juries of their peers (more literally than civilian juries — rank is taken into account when selecting juries for courts-martial) and failed every appeal. And their commander-in-chief pardoned them absolutely and is making noises that they should be 100% reinstated to all rank and privilege. These murderers have been told that they did nothing wrong. They might not all do it again, but these pardons will have fatalities.

Fuck him. Fuck him. Fuck him.
posted by Etrigan at 9:22 AM on November 20, 2019 [42 favorites]

its time for insubordination among the leaders of our military, of ICE etc., if they refused to follow immoral orders, or had a strike, en masse, that would be a powerful message and a way to end atrocities.
posted by supermedusa at 10:33 AM on November 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

That New Republic piece is a great essay. Very Vonnegut-like (in the best way). I kept expecting to read "so it goes" between switches from describing one officially sanctioned murderer to the next.
posted by booksarelame at 10:36 AM on November 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

that would be a powerful message and a way to end atrocities.

That would also literally be a military coup.
posted by sideshow at 10:37 AM on November 20, 2019 [8 favorites]

Yeah, I don't expect or want military leaders to refuse to follow these orders. But I want them to live up to the ideals of honor we keep yelling about and leave their stars on their boss's desk.

If they're gonna go along with these orders, then there's no room left for "But then they won't be able to stop the really bad stuff!"
posted by Etrigan at 10:40 AM on November 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

That would also literally be a military coup. oh...

is it a coup if they don't overturn the govt just refuse to enact certain orders?
posted by supermedusa at 10:52 AM on November 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

A coup would be collectively following Presidential orders which are unconstitutional, and to the detriment of the republic.

Members of the military take an oath to defend the Constitution, not the President.
posted by jamjam at 11:04 AM on November 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

of ICE

Hell will freeze over before ICE, that hive of racist scum and villainy, stands up against the President.
posted by axiom at 11:16 AM on November 20, 2019 [13 favorites]

The coup is already well underway, that toothpaste isn't going back in the tube. The only question here is whether the entirety of the military will side with it.
posted by Rust Moranis at 1:03 PM on November 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Does Trump really think that pardoning convicted war criminals will grant him the support of all military members? God, I hope he's wrong.
posted by pleem at 2:35 PM on November 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

What to Know About Obeying an Unlawful Military Order
The military oath taken at the time of induction into the military is as follows:

"I,____________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God"

Notice the oath states, “I will obey the orders of the President of the United States...”, but the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) Article 90 states that military personnel need to obey the "lawful orders of his/her superior. The duty and obligation to obey lawful orders creates no grey area for discussion. But does the military member have a duty to DISOBEY “unlawful orders” including orders of senior officers, Secretary of Defense and even the President of the United States? The UCMJ actually protects the soldier in this situation as he/she has a moral and legal obligation to the Constitution and not to obey unlawful orders and the people who issue them.
These have to be strong examples of a direct violation of the Constitution and the UCMJ and not the military member’s own opinion.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:35 PM on November 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

Green seeks to Have Gallagher removed from the SEALs.
The rank was reinstated, so the presidential order was followed. Next assignments, however, are a separate issue and a matter for his superior officer. Putting the Chief on a desk far, far away from the SEAL limelight is the best thing possible.
posted by Cris E at 2:56 PM on November 20, 2019

The US military has tons of mandatory online training. I did see one example where the correct answer to the question involved disobeying instructions, which I found rather heartwarming.
posted by exogenous at 4:10 PM on November 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

That would also literally be a military coup.

Yeah, no. A strike involving not doing the thing. A coup involves doing the thing, but to your own government/superiors rather than in a different country.
posted by eviemath at 7:33 AM on November 22, 2019

For those of you who are blissfully not Constantly Online, the latest news is that the Secretary of Defense asked for and received the resignation of the Secretary of the Navy. Reporting is all over the place, but the first draft of the story is that Spencer (Navy) went around Esper (Defense) straight to the White House to ask them not to publicly countermand the SEAL board taking war criminal / serial killer Eddie Gallagher's SEAL status away, and in return Spencer would quietly restore Gallagher's status once the hubbub died down. Esper found out and fired Spencer while simultaneously saying that the SEAL board would not take Gallagher's trident.

The dignity wraith continues to suck every drop out of everyone around him.
posted by Etrigan at 5:01 PM on November 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’m so confused by this Navy secretary thing.
posted by double bubble at 9:13 PM on November 24, 2019

It's really confusing, with headfakes by at least one player (Spencer). I eventually came to the same understanding as Etrigan, except for the end of his last sentence. Esper guaranteed that Gallagher gets to remain a SEAL?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:36 AM on November 25, 2019

Right?!?! That part is so weird.
posted by double bubble at 6:21 AM on November 25, 2019

Esper guaranteed that Gallagher gets to remain a SEAL?

So sayeth the NYT:
A Defense Department official said Chief Gallagher would now keep his Trident pin, the symbol of his membership in the SEALs, at Mr. Esper’s direction.
posted by Etrigan at 6:32 AM on November 25, 2019

Does Trump really think that pardoning convicted war criminals will grant him the support of all military members?

He’s not trying to win anyone’s support, he’s done two things with these pardons: asserted his authority as commander-in-chief of the military, and sent a clear message to all monsters and monsters-in-waiting that he has their back, that it’s OK to murder people as long as victims are “the enemy.”

There is no longer any court of public opinion regarding DJT, and he knows it; there is only the fight, and he’s in it to win.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:28 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

An opinion piece in the Washington Post: "While Gallagher is celebrated on Fox, current and former senior officers of the SEALs and other elite units told me this weekend that his case has little support within the community of Special Operations forces. One former SEAL commander noted that maintaining discipline among these elite units is so important that the SEAL peer-review panels have removed more than 150 Trident pins since 2011, or more than one a month. That’s the process of internal accountability that Spencer was trying to defend, and that Trump sabotaged." (emphasis mine)
posted by exogenous at 12:10 PM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Does Trump really think that pardoning convicted war criminals will grant him the support of all military members?

I doubt he's thinking that much about it. I think he just thinks that soldiers who do vicious murders are badass dudes and we need more of them. I think he thinks that's just what the military does, primarily from watching Rambo or whatever (and honestly, hard to say he's wrong here?)
posted by dis_integration at 12:54 PM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Former Navy secretary Spencer now has his own opinion piece in the Washington Post. He takes the blame for going directly to Trump without consulting the Defense Secretary at each step, but also says "the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices."
posted by exogenous at 6:59 AM on November 29, 2019

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