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Opinion: Normalizing War Crimes Endangers Our Troops

Roy Arpaio openly bragged about his concentration camps for immigrants. When Donald Trump pardoned him, it made a mockery not only of the pardon power, but also legal norms within and beyond the United States.

By Trump’s logic, torture  is okay even when the offending state is North Korea and the victim is an American citizen. He’s cool with plundering and genocide  when the offending governments are those of Vladimir Putin and other global outcasts.

With that rhetoric, it was a matter of time before Trump would take the normalization of war crimes to the next level with a reported intent to pardon several convicted war criminals. The added bonus is the reported intent to time these pardons for Memorial Day.

This step has nothing to do with draining swamps, or giving the so called “deep state” a rude finger gesture.

If anything, it’s something a deep state would do. Corrupt political leader handing a huge political favor to his favor gun for hire, Erik Prince. For it was while under Prince’s employ that Nicholas A. Slatten shot dozens of unarmed civilians  in Iraq.

Aside from Slatten, Trump is considering pardons for a green beret who shot an unarmed civilian in Afghanistan and Marine corps snipers who urinated on the corpses.

I’ll admit to having more than a passing interest in this betrayal of basic human values. After World War II, America took international criminal law to the next step – assuring that those prosecuted would be convicted and the sentences would reflect the horrific nature of their crimes. Before that, war crimes and crimes against humanity were left for countries to handle by themselves, with predictable results.

Reading about those proceedings led to my interest in international criminal law, and a hope that the world was moving toward an international rule of law.

It’s a mind warp to see Donald Trump destroy American advances in international criminal law by pardoning the worst of our worst in the name of doing a favor for Erik Prince.

When it comes to the worst of the worst, the only people worse than the “ordinary” war criminals Trump intends to pardon are those responsible for the crime of genocide – people like Jean-Paul Akeyesu.

I fear for the possibility that the increasing number of children killed in the Trump Administration’s custody will continue to increase by leaps and bounds as a direct consequence of Trump’s endeavor to destroy international criminal law.

I also fear that a policy that comes as close to the line of genocide as possible may have already crossed that line while we’re distracted by the latest Trump blunder, tweet or effort to smash our legal and political norms to dust.

Throughout the major developments in international criminal law, the United States defended, in theory, the right side of morality and law – until Trump. It was the United States that developed Nuremberg law, that established the UN Tribunals to prosecute war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. It was also the United States that advanced the international rule of law by pushing to establish the International Criminal Court and with it an international penal code.

Admittedly, we backed away from the ICC because a Republican Senate refused to approve the Rome Statute, with this the US joined China, India, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Qatar and Israel – along with Russia and Syria.

Even if one holds the view that the American military should have an unfettered ability to use rape as a weapon of war, poison wells, or bomb schools and hospitals with impunity then what does this say to our allies who Trump would like to support our military endeavors?

Jason Easley rightly explained the political motivation behind this move.

“Trump thinks that pardoning war criminals over Memorial Day weekend will make him look good, which is why he is so eager to put US lives in danger all around the world.”

It’s about Trump offering his base a Memorial Day feast of red meat. It’s about reinforcing the image of Trump as a self-defined “strong man.”

It’s small wonder the military is less than thrilled with this dangerous love gesture to Trump’s base of equally delusional “strong men.” Instead of tending to fictional bone spurs, these are people who know the realities of war. The military knows that when there are no rules, there is no limit to the level of barbarity that civilians and prisoners of war will endure.

This is not to suggest that international rules of war eliminated barbarity. But, the rules of war condemn acts that shock the conscience of people around the world – at least those who have a moral compass and a conscience and don’t think emulating Adolf Hitler is something to brag about.

These rules serve as a deterrent to people who lock up psychopaths who carry out such crimes.

The dominant purpose of the rules of war is to protect civilians, as noted by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

However, the rules of war include important protections that benefit our troops in the event they are sick, injured or captured.

For example, there is a mandate to assure they are cared for. There are protections for the medical personal who provide care. There are prohibitions against torture and degrading treatment of people who are caught. Prisoners of war are guaranteed access to nutrition and communications with their loved ones.

All these protections will be in danger if Trump opts to pardon Erik Prince’s willing executioners and those who disgraced their military uniforms.

And even if one wants to dismiss the significance of these protections, the protections to assure the safety of Americans who are in war-torn countries, be it as diplomats working on peace agreements, aid workers, tourists or someone working on a deal to build the latest Trump tower.

If Trump pardons American war criminals, what’s to stop other countries from pardoning theirs, especially when the victims were American? Why would any foreign soldier think he’d be punished for harming Americans?

As always, Trump never looks past stroking his own ego or that of his most dedicated supporters. Unlike when his trade wars put the economic future of farmers at risk, this move has the potential to put everyone at risk because the protections against weapons of mass destruction would also be gone.

It’s likely that those with nuclear weapons would be less reluctant to use them if Trump normalizes war crimes. There’s no guardrail against using weapons that would destroy entire countries and entire populations. There would literally be no limits – including complete destruction of the planet.

Adalia Woodbury

Former contributor.

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