Venkata: The knight became the pawn

Reelection over soldiers’ honor

Morgan La Casse

Morgan La Casse

Uma Venkata

In the latest distraction campaign, wherein the president creates problems to distract the public from processing existing ones, President Trump has cleared three servicemen of war crimes with which military court had charged them. The highest-profile case is with Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL tried for multiple war-crime offenses, who was acquitted of all except posing with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter. His own peers had reported him, angered by his behavior. Gallagher campaigned on Fox News and Twitter for Trump to pardon him. The Navy then wanted to rescind his Trident pin, which signifies SEAL membership. Rescinding the pin is not extremely uncommon, with 154 Trident-pin recessions since 2011. But Trump has tweeted an arbitrary decision that they cannot. This is all very uncharted territory. 

Army Lt. Clint Lorance had been serving 19 years at Ft. Leavenworth for the murder of two civilians, but Trump has ordered his full pardon. Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn killed an unarmed Afghan he believed was Taliban bomb maker and received a preemptive full pardon, before he even went to trial. All of this barely scratches the surface of what these men have committed. I encourage you to read more, from reputable and objective sources, about these three men for a better idea of what they have committed and we are labelling acceptable with their pardons.

I have heard that harping on President Trump is an easy target. This is true. The president’s harm streak to the safety and pride of the nation is his AmEx. Don’t live life without it. But the minute we start to dismiss it as old news, boring or “too easy” is the minute we accept it as normal. Nothing here is normal. Trump is so desperate to be reelected that he finds it necessary to sabotage his opponents and appeal to base, cosmetic instincts of some voters rather than just to let the actions and outcomes of his presidency speak for themselves. Each new stunt one-ups the last, and the most recent one is at the expense of the armed forces, something he has never interacted with before the presidency.

One thing may seem obvious, and we should all equally acknowledge it: The military is a different world that the general civilian does not deeply understand. I encourage you to poke around on Military Times or Navy Times to get an idea of the complexity of the armed forces. The American military is a different culture, complete with a military court system, that exists separately from the civilian for good reason. Martial law is not the same as civilian law. The difference is that we don’t know what military justice is like, but we know that we don’t, and the military does. Trump clearly doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, or worse, he doesn’t care — either way, he sees it as ripe for election season. If he truly could fathom the costs of degrading the rule of law, the military’s good order and discipline, I’d like to think he wouldn’t have made these pardons. Military oversight is a great thing to examine, but reducing military discipline is not on that menu. If they’re already choosing to discipline one of their own, rather than allowing them to get away with war crimes, it wouldn’t make sense to a patriot to interfere. 

Pardoning one war-criminal SEAL endangers all American servicemen, and, god forbid, American civilians abroad. But Trump doesn’t care because it’s macho to lionize “warriors.” The late Sen. John McCain’s death was not long enough ago for us to forget Trump’s blatant disrespect to a POW veteran. Though plenty of other Americans could politically disagree with McCain, no one could stomach disrespecting his service or his genuine commitment to American safety. Naval pilots like McCain continue to risk their lives behind enemy lines today, and what is terrifying about Trump’s pardons is that we will have no moral authority to denounce an enemy when they abuse any American the way Gallagher and his team abused our own adversaries. During the Clinton administration, an American soldier’s corpse was dragged naked through the streets of Mogadishu. If we cannot condemn desecration of corpses, we have no right to object.

For example, when Gallagher posed with a corpse, he committed a war crime and violated the rules of engagement, the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Convention, the uniform code of military justice, and, obviously, good order and discipline. I say blatantly obvious things all the time, so I won’t stop here: Trump’s disregard for these rules sends a dangerous message. Not only is he telling others no longer to trust Americans, but he’s also telling Americans that he wants to be more than a democratic president. He wants to be a Xi Jinping or a Vladimir Putin. He wants to make the rules and apply them selectively to cultivate a little-king image. 

Anyone can see Trump’s cloying faux-patriotism from a mile away. He’s using the “warrior” lines to appeal to the red-meat idea of patriotism that his base responds to, but he’s disrespecting them by assuming that they can’t differentiate between standing up for your country and the rule of law. Abiding by the Geneva convention is not docility, it is pride in the morality and strength of your nation. 

Well into the saga where Gallagher made himself the rope in the tug-of-war between Trump and military leadership, we directly ended up with the forced resignation of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. Our institutions continue to crumble before our eyes. It’s not small news that Americans allow Americans to commit atrocities against their adversaries. At the end of the day, the Islamic State can just use this whole thing as a recruitment video.