President Donald Trump obviously doesn’t understand anything about military order, discipline or the laws of war. The pardons he’s been issuing and the remarks he’s been making show that he also doesn’t care.
When Trump cleared three service men convicted or accused of war crimes, he undermined the order and discipline that are critical in to the military, as well as the system of military justice that upholds that discipline. He sent a disturbing message to those in our military and to the world that the U.S. commander in chief believes that sometimes the laws of war don’t matter.
Trump pardoned Army First Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been found guilty of two counts of murder for ordering soldiers under his command to kill unarmed civilians in Afghanistan. He pardoned Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, a former Green Beret who had confessed to murder for killing an Afghan civilian and was supposed to face court martial in December. And he reduced the sentence — ordering a promotion to chief petty officer — of Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who was acquitted of murdering an ISIS prisoner but convicted on the lesser charge of posing for a photo with the corpse.
The president also quickly put to a halt attempts by the Navy command to expel Gallagher, as well as three officers who supervised him in Iraq, from the SEALs.
And over the weekend, the Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, was forced to resign over the Gallagher situation.
Before he officially intervened to clear the three, Trump had meddled in their cases. He’d made it clear that he thought Gallagher was a hero, talked about pardoning him, and ordered the withdrawal of awards for the Navy lawyers who prosecuted him. He’d tweeted about Golsteyn’s case, which won’t even come to trial.
Senior military leaders, while following the orders of their commander in chief, have clearly not been pleased with his actions. They have the tough job of preserving order and discipline in difficult circumstances. Trump just made it tougher by sending the message that it’s OK for troops to take matters into their own hands. There are many people in the military and many who see themselves as their supporters who applaud Trump’s actions. But responsible leaders and those who understand what our military is really about are appalled.
In one of his tweets about Golsteyn, Trump wrote: “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!” That remark shows the depths of his lack of understanding.
Most of those who volunteer to serve in our military are not signing up to be “killing machines.” Our military’s foremost job is to protect and defend our country, its people — and its values.
Wise political and military leaders hope that maintaining a strong military will make it less likely that our troops will have to kill people. They also hope that when armed conflict becomes necessary, it doesn’t become indiscriminate killing.
Legal boundaries help those who fight for our country live up to the values they are fighting for. When the commander in chief signals that lawless actions are fine, maintaining order and discipline gets a lot harder.
Trump seems to think military action is some sort of game. Those who must take part in it know that’s it’s deadly serious.
Too bad the commander in chief doesn’t get that.