Of Pardoning War Criminals: Trump and the Consequences Of Ignoring Justice

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are reports that this Memorial Day weekend that President Trump will Pardon convicted or accused War Criminals, men whose conduct dishonored the military and the country, men whose fellow soldiers, Marines, or Sailors have voluntarily testified against. These men murdered prisoners and committed other crimes forbidden by the law of war. If he does so this weekend it will be the ultimate betrayal of the military by the Commander in Chief.

When Richard Nixon Pardoned Lieutenant William Calley, convicted of leading his platoon in the deadliest atrocity committed by American Troops in the Vietnam War at a village called My Lai. His men’s butchery had to be stopped by an American helicopter and its crew who interposed their bird between Carley’s men and other potential victims, and threatened to shoot at Calley’s men. The crime was initially covered up by Calley’s chain-of-command. Eventually it became public and the Army was forced to deal with it. Of all the officers charged and soldiers charged, only Calley was convicted. It took thirty years for the military to award the heroes who stopped the massacre.

In the six degrees of separation I am just twice removed from My Lai, two times. In my MSIII, junior year of Army ROTC in the Fall of 1981. My instructor was Major Barry Towne, during the investigation he was Commanding part of the security force. He told us what kind of criminal element that Calley and his platoon was. Calley’s defense at Court Martial was that “he was just following orders.”

Major Towne told us of its effect on the troops, the public, and the war. He told us that we would be war criminals if we ever allowed that to happen under my command. So I knew one of the Officers with first hand knowledge of the crime and the crime scene. Then, in June of 1998 while serving as the Garrison Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania I did the funeral of Calley’s Brigade Commander, Colonel Oran Henderson. He was acquitted of all charges including the cover-up which he began the day of the massacre. At the time I didn’t know his fully complicity in the massacre. Telford Taylor, one of the Senior American prosecutors at Nuremberg “wrote that legal principles established at the war crimes trials could have been used to prosecute senior American military commanders for failing to prevent atrocities such as the one at My Lai.” Those included Generals, and many other senior officers.

President Nixon commuted Calley’s prison time to House Arrest, and in September 1974 Calley was pardoned by the Secretary of the Army. That man said he did it because Calley really did believe that he was following orders.

So if the President begins pardoning War criminals it will be a watershed from which there will be no going back, unless the Generals and Admirals protest. If course if they do, Trump will replace them with men who will go all the way, and his base, especially his allegedly pro-life Christians, who believe that he has been ordained by God to Make America Great Again.

Just before the invasion of Poland Hitler told his military commanders:

“I shall give a propagandist cause for starting war -never mind whether it be plausible or not. The victor shall not be asked later on whether we told the truth or not. In starting and making a war, it is not the right that matters, but victory.”

In May 1941, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel disseminated the Barbarossa Decree in the name of Adolf Hitler which absolved German Soldiers from war crimes, even those against German law. Army Group and Army Commanders had the authority to be more severe than Keitel’s order. The Severity Order issued by Field Marshal Walter Reichenau of Army Group, Commander of 6th Army. That order stated:

The most important objective of this campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete destruction of its sources of power and the extermination of the Asiatic influence in European civilization.

In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war, but also the ruthless standard bearer of a national conception and the avenger of bestialities which have been inflicted upon German and racially related nations. For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry. The Army has to aim at another purpose, i. e., the annihilation of revolts in hinterland which, as experience proves, have always been caused by Jews.

Other Wehrmacht Commanders wrote similar orders, unleashing the beast in their soldiers and classifying their enemies as less than human, a typical charge leveled at racial and religious minorities, as well as immigrants, and potential enemies by the President.

General Erich Hoepner issued this order to his soldiers of Panzer Group Four, Later known as the 4th Panzer Army:

The war against Russia is an important chapter in the German nation’s struggle for existence. It is the old battle of the Germanic against the Slavic people, of the defence of European culture against Muscovite-Asiatic inundation and of the repulse of Jewish Bolshevism. The objective of this battle must be the demolition of present-day Russia and must therefore be conducted with unprecedented severity. Every military action must be guided in planning and execution by an iron resolution to exterminate the enemy remorselessly and totally. In particular, no adherents of the contemporary Russian Bolshevik system are to be spared.

Unopposed Pardons will release unprecedented evil by otherwise honorable men who either believer that they are just following orders or approved by God through the words of their leader.

I take this very seriously. War Crimes are war crime whether committed by Nazis, Communists, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, or American soldiers. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who organized the Nuremberg Trials and prosecuted the leading Nazis noted before the trials began:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

If Trump Pardons these men he will be spitting in the face of American and International Justice. He will be blessing war crimes and if there is no push back from the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Regional Combatant Command Commanders we are doomed to repeat what criminal regimes have done. We will be a rogue and outcast nation whose word will not be believed, and whose military members will be considered criminals, even if they serve honorably and have never committed any crimes. Ask any Vietnam Veteran if you don’t believe me. I wasn’t a Vietnam veteran, but my dad was. When I enlisted and joined the ROTC program at UCLA I had a man come out from nowhere and start screaming at me “off campus ROTC Nazi!”

I haven’t forgotten that. I was a kid when Calley committed his crimes. I had never fired a shot in anger, and my primary focus of study over the previous year had been the guilt of the Nazis and their genocidal policies. What leaders do matters, and there is no escaping that, especially if you volunteer to serve in the military.

These are big issues and cannot be allowed to go unnoticed. The rot begins in the head of the fish. We are well on our way to to becoming a criminal and outlaw nation, something our Founders thought they had prevented by devising our system of government, a system intentionally designed to limit the powers of the Executive.

This does matter. If Trump Pardons these men and there is no push back from the Senior Commanders I would advise no one to enlist or take a commission in the United States military, and I have almost 38 years of service in the Army and Navy to prove my devotion to the Constitution and Country, including combat tours in which I was shot at and was in danger on a daily basis. As a historian, priest, and officer I cannot be silent if the President Pardons War criminals. The very thought is abhorrent to my nature.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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6 Comments

Filed under ethics, History, holocaust, iraq,afghanistan, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

6 responses to “Of Pardoning War Criminals: Trump and the Consequences Of Ignoring Justice

  1. Reading this makes me angry.

    How hypocrite can those politicians get especially mr. Bolton.

    Why is the US exempt from addressing and convicting war crimes, just because the are the US.

    No country is somewhere in place and time exempt of committing war crimes. It is never nice to acknowledge but it is the truth.
    If the US government would aknowled that they committed crimes against humanity it would at least signal that the don’t set themselves above every international law and treaty

    It seems that many Americans know so well how other countries have to behave, how abide the law, how to deal with war-crimes.
    However when addressing their involvement in not abide by human rights, addressing war crimes by Americans and mis(treatment) of those one Guatanamo Bay, mistreatment of prisoners

    Mr. Bolton was and still is a driving force, by all means, deny justice to those wronged by US military and policies

    https://www.voanews.com/a/us-relationship-with-international-court-crashes-under-trump/4565853.html

    http://www.diplomatmagazine.nl/2019/02/09/william-pace-the-hague-invasion-act-remains-dangerous/

  2. He’ll do it, and no one will protest. The rule of law is long since dead in his administration.

  3. maryplumbago

    Agree totally, Sean.
    It’s all over but the shoutin’

  4. EWM

    What Nietzsche Said
    “There are still peoples and herds somewhere, but not with us, my brothers: here there are states.

    The state? What is that? Well then! Now open your ears, for now I shall speak to you of the death of peoples.
    The state is the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies, too; and this lie creeps from its mouth; ‘I, the state, am the people.’
    It is a lie! It was creators who created peoples and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life.
    It is destroyers who set snares for many and call it the state: they hang a sword and a hundred desires over them.
    Where a people still exists, there the people do not understand the state and hate it as the evil eye and sin against custom and law.
    I offer you this sign: every people speaks its own language of good and evil: its neighbor does not understand this language. It invented this language for itself in custom and law.
    But the state lies in all languages of good and evil; and whatever it says, it lies – and whatever it has, it has stolen.
    Everything about it is false; it bites with stolen teeth. Even its belly is false.
    Confusion of the language of good and evil; I offer you this sign of the state. Truly, this sign indicates the will to death! Truly, it beckons to the preachers of death!
    Many too many are born: the state was invented for the superfluous!
    Just see how it lures them, the many-too-many! How it devours them, and chews them, and re-chews them!
    …It would like to range heroes and honorable men about it, this new idol! It likes to sun itself in the sunshine of good consciences – this cold monster!
    It will give you everything if you worship it, this new idol: thus it buys for itself the luster of your virtues and the glance of your proud eyes.
    It wants to use you to lure the many-too-many. Yes, a cunning device of Hell has here been devised, a horse of death jingling with the trappings of divine honors!
    Yes, a death for many has here been devised that glorifies itself as life: truly a heart-felt service to all preachers of death!
    I call it the state where everyone, good and bad, is a poison-drinker: the state where everyone, good and bad, loses himself: the state where universal slow suicide is called – life.”

  5. Otto Carnage

    I’m complicit in the war crimes of the United States. I served in the USMC in Vietnam. When I was in Vietnam I didn’t think I was the enemy but I was to them. But since then, I have voted and paid my taxes even though I know that the US war machine has killed millions of people around the world since the end of WW II, people that never did me any harm. I never had any children and I’m glad that I didn’t spawn another American to contaminate the planet.

    • padresteve

      Most of us are complicit. I feel the same way, but for him to legitimize it is the end for us.

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