Trump Is Using His Pardon Power to Reward Violence and Cruelty

Posted Thursday, 23 May 2019 ‐ The New York Times

Last year, a federal jury in Washington convicted Nicholas Slatten, a former security contractor, of first-degree murder for his role in killing one of 14 Iraqi civilians who died in 2007 in a shooting that also injured more than a dozen others. Matthew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret, was charged late last year with the murder of an unarmed Afghan man during a 2010 deployment. Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq, was reported to authorities by his own men, who witnessed him “stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death,” “picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost” and “indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.”
There are others — all accused of war crimes while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Trump apparently wants to give them a presidential pardon, timed for Memorial Day. Trump is not responding to a groundswell of public support for these men. Nor are current and former military leaders calling for leniency. Just the opposite: They have urged the White House to abandon this plan. “Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the law of armed conflict seriously,” Martin Dempsey, a retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Twitter.
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But Republican lawmakers and conservative television personalities have lobbied in support of accused war criminals — Gallagher in particular. “He risked his life serving abroad to protect the rights of all of us here at home,” Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina said during a March rally on Capitol Hill, where he was joined by Representatives Duncan Hunter of California and Steve King of Iowa. Norman urged authorities to release Gallagher from confinement ahead of his trial “in light of his bravery, his patriotism and his rights as an American citizen.”
Trump is listening. He gave a nod to Norman on Twitter, tagging him along with “Fox & Friends” as he wrote about Gallagher’s case: “In honor of his past service to our Country, Navy Seal #EddieGallagher will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court. Process should move quickly!”
But conservative lobbying and Fox News coverage — Pete Hegseth, a veteran of the Iraq War and one of the hosts of “Fox & Friends,” privately appealed to the president on Gallagher’s behalf — aren’t the only reasons Trump is prepared to pardon accused and convicted war criminals.
The president likes “tough” people and “tough” action, where “tough” is a euphemism for violent. “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people,” Trump said in a March interview with Breitbart News, in a warning to left-wing protesters. “But they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
For Trump, this toughness — this willingness to act cruelly and brutally — is a virtue. That’s especially true when the targets are racial others.
We saw this 30 years ago when he called for the return of the death penalty in the wake of accusations against the Central Park Five. We saw it during his presidential campaign, when he called for American soldiers to commit war crimes in the fight against the Islamic State. “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump infamously said during a 2015 interview on “Fox & Friends.”
We’ve also seen it throughout his presidency, as he demands cruel, brutal treatment of migrants. When Customs and Border Protection agents used tear gas against asylum seekers near Tijuana, Mexico, Trump defended them: “Here’s the bottom line: Nobody’s coming into our country unless they come legally.” Pardoning accused war criminals is, in a sense, just more of the same.
If Trump goes through with these Memorial Day pardons, it wouldn’t be the first time he has used his pardon power to affirm the virtue of racialized brutality. Recall how in 2017 he pardoned Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff convicted of contempt of court for refusing to end his racial profiling of the state’s Latino residents. In addition to his racist, anti-immigrant practices, Arpaio was notorious for his dehumanizing treatment of prisoners in his care. He operated an open-air jail where inmates were exposed to the elements (including scorching Arizona summers) and fed meager meals. All of this clearly impressed Trump, who praised Arpaio as “an outstanding sheriff” and a “great American patriot.”
Trump wants law enforcement to act that way — he has encouraged the police to assault suspects (“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, I said, please don’t be too nice’”) — and so he pardoned a cruel sheriff. He wants soldiers to behave brutally, so he plans to pardon men accused of war crimes. Just last month, he complained that “our military, don’t forget, can’t act like a military would act” when facing asylum seekers.
Trump wants to dominate the targets of his hatred with arbitrary violence. With these pardons, he has made a promise to those who might engage in the violence he admires: If you do these things, I will protect you.
There’s a reason the president has nearly unlimited power to pardon. “The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in the favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 74. The pardon power was meant to correct wrongs, to forgive offenders and show mercy, to promote virtue and affirm the best values of our society. But in Trump’s hands it has become, like so much of our constitutional system, a tool for vice.
It’s yet another way he can realize the harsh vision of his campaign — another way he can fulfill his promise to target the disfavored and disdained with the power of the state.
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Tag: #Amnesties,CommutationsAndPardons #UnitedStatesDefenseAndMilitaryForces #UnitedStatesPoliticsAndGovernment #IraqWar(2003-11) #AfghanistanWar(2001-) #Fox&Friends(tvProgram)

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