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Former Marine Commandant tells Trump that pardoning troops accused of war crimes 'relinquishes the moral high ground'
Former Marine Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak has issued a statement urging President Donald Trump and members of Congress to oppose pardons for those accused or convicted of war crimes since, he argued, it would "relinquish the United States' moral high ground."
"If President Trump follows through on reports that he will mark Memorial Day by pardoning individuals accused or convicted of war crimes, he will betray these ideals and undermine decades of precedent in American military justice that has contributed to making our country's fighting forces the envy of the world," said Krulak, who served in the Marine Corps for more than three decades before retiring in 1999 as the 31st Commandant.
Krulak, a two-time Purple Heart recipient and son of legendary Lt. Gen. Victor "Brute" Krulak, went on to say that "disregard for the law undermines our national security," and it would negatively impact combat effectiveness, increase the risk to U.S. troops, and provide a propaganda boon to extremists.
The retired general's statement came in response to recent reporting over the weekend that Trump was considering the possibility of issuing pardons on Memorial Day to Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher and Special Forces Maj. Matthew Golsteyn — both of which are currently undergoing court-martial proceedings on separate war crimes charges — as well as a group of Marine scout snipers who were accused of urinating on the bodies of Taliban corpses in 2011.
When reached for further comment by Task & Purpose, Krulak said that he and more than 170 retired generals and admirals had previously done work on anti-torture legislation with Human Rights First, the organization that posted the statement.
"No sooner do we see victory there before we have a president who is going to pardon people who have been found guilty or are suspected of guilt under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," Krulak told Task & Purpose in a brief phone interview.
"We can talk all we want about what he's doing with the rule of law under his authority but to start saying that a trial by jury under the UCMJ is now something that can be overturned is sending just a terrible signal to the men and women who are currently serving," Krulak said. "It sets a precedent that we could possibly regret."
In his written statement, Krulak also referenced a Tuesday tweet from retired Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who criticized the "wholesale pardon of US service members accused of war crimes," though he did not mention Trump's name.
"More important than the message such pardons would send to others, however, is that which it would send to our own service members and citizens," Krulak wrote, including a quote from former Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in opposition to torture: "This is a moral debate. It is about who we are. I don't mourn the loss of any terrorist's life. What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves."
Krulak closed by saying that "indiscriminate pardons" would relinquish the United States' moral high ground and undermine good order and discipline within the military.
"I urge the President against taking this step and hope that Members of Congress will oppose it," he said.
As a captain, Krulak earned the Silver Star for his heroism during the Vietnam War for repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire and leading his men away from enemy contact despite being weak from loss of blood. He retired from the Marine Corps after 35 years and went on to become an executive and board member for a number of organizations, according to an official biography.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Task & Purpose.
You can read Krulak's full statement below:
For almost 15 years I have led a group that has grown to more than 170 retired admirals and generals who share a belief that fidelity to our nation's most cherished ideals is the foundation of our security. If President Trump follows through on reports that he will mark Memorial Day by pardoning individuals accused or convicted of war crimes, he will betray these ideals and undermine decades of precedent in American military justice that has contributed to making our country's fighting forces the envy of the world.
As General Martin Dempsey, retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently stated, "Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals [to] our troops and allies that we don't take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously."
Disregard for the law undermines our national security by reducing combat effectiveness, increasing the risks to our troops, hindering cooperation with allies, alienating populations whose support the United States needs in the struggle against terrorism, and providing a propaganda tool for extremists who wish to do us harm.
More important than the message such pardons would send to others, however, is that which it would send to our own servicemembers and citizens. As the late Senator John McCain said in 2011 about torture and war crimes:
"This is a moral debate. It is about who we are. I don't mourn the loss of any terrorist's life. What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves. Through the violence, chaos and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss, we are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us."
If President Trump issues indiscriminate pardons of individuals accused – or convicted by their fellow servicemembers -- of war crimes, he relinquishes the United States' moral high ground and undermines the good order and discipline critical to winning on the battlefield. I urge the President against taking this step and hope that Members of Congress will oppose it.
Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) will announce legislation Wednesday aiming to "fix" a new Trump administration citizenship policy that affects some children of U.S. service members stationed abroad.
The inside story of how The Village People shot the Navy's most controversial recruiting video onboard an active warship
The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.
Then the rhythmic clapping begins.
This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.
"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.
"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."
Well, I feel better. How about you?
On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.
A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."
"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.
President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.
"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."
The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."
Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.
"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.
The U.S. Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon effort looked a lot more possible this week as the three competing weapons firms displayed their prototype 6.8mm rifles and automatic rifles at the 2019 Association of the United States Army's annual meeting.
Just two months ago, the Army selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems inc., Textron Systems and Sig Sauer Inc. for the final phase of the NGSW effort — one of the service's top modernization priorities to replace the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units.
Army officials, as well as the companies in competition, have been guarded about specific details, but the end result will equip combat squads with weapons that fire a specially designed 6.8mm projectile, capable of penetrating enemy body armor at ranges well beyond the current M855A1 5.56mm round.
There have previously been glimpses of weapons from two firms, but this year's AUSA was the first time all three competitors displayed their prototype weapons, which are distinctly different from one another.