Pardoning War Criminals

 
no_profundia
 
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no_profundia
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22 May 2019 22:01
 

I can’t for the life of me come up with any principled argument that would support pardoning convicted war criminals. I tend to think we usually support issues based on group loyalties and most of our reasons are post-hoc but I can’t even come up with a good post-hoc reason for supporting Trump’s potential plan to pardon Edward Gallagher if he is convicted. But apparently there are people who would support the decision.

It seems to me there are two questions we could ask:

1. Should US soldiers be allowed to murder prisoners and/or civilians?
2. If the answer to number 1 is no (as it clearly is), how should we decide when a soldier is guilty of violating this rule and what their punishment should be?

It seems obvious to me that the answer to number two is the same as it is in the criminal justice system at large: have a fair trial and adhere to the verdict. I can’t come up with any argument for using the method apparently being proposed by Fox News: have a trial, then let the President arbitrarily decide whether he likes the verdict, and if not, have him overturn it. If you think the military court (or however they are settling this trial) is so broken that it cannot be trusted, and the President’s discretion is more trustworthy, then why not do away with trials altogether and just rely on the President’s intuition? We could save ourselves from costly trials, evidence gathering, testimony, etc. by just letting the President consult his gut.

That is obviously absurd. The only explanation I can come up with for why someone would support a pardon if Gallagher is convicted is, there is just a subset of people who are psychologically incapable of believing anything negative said about anyone who wears a uniform. Usually, with these types of issues, I can say “I think team loyalty is ultimately driving it, but I can imagine an argument that could be devised to support that team loyalty” but in this case I can’t. It just seems like naked team loyalty, pure and simple.

 
 
Skipshot
 
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Skipshot
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23 May 2019 00:48
 

I am not joking when I say you must joking to think Trump has principles.  Kissing Trump’s ass will get any convict pardoned.

 
no_profundia
 
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no_profundia
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23 May 2019 07:11
 

Yeah, I am not suggesting Trump is acting on any principle other than the whims of the moment. I am speculating more about all the people that would support this decision if Trump took it. I am actually not sure what percentage of the population would support the decision. I would hope that it would be a very small percentage but I fear it is much larger than I would hope. I don’t think the people who support it could possibly be acting on any coherent principle either but people generally try to rationalize their views on things like this at least to themselves. I can’t figure out how a person could rationalize supporting this.

 
 
Garret
 
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Garret
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23 May 2019 08:27
 

If Gallagher is pardoned, it would actually be the historically more normal outcome.  Soldiers accused of crimes rarely face any sort of punishment when returning home.  The typical punishment is resignation.  The couple of very low ranking soldiers who were convicted after Abu Ghraib are the exception, not the rule.  If memory serves, I don’t think any senior officers were even forced to resign in that incident.

If Gallagher were convicted, and not pardoned, he would either be an outlier, or this would mark a dramatic moral and ethical shift in how the US conducts itself overseas.

And when I say “historical more normal outcome”, I mean this is consistent from the Roman empire, to the British empire, to the United States.  Powerful political entities don’t punish those enforcing their will outside the borders.  They may make a show of acting concerned, but there are never real consequences at home.

 
Jan_CAN
 
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23 May 2019 08:37
 
no_profundia - 23 May 2019 07:11 AM

Yeah, I am not suggesting Trump is acting on any principle other than the whims of the moment. I am speculating more about all the people that would support this decision if Trump took it. I am actually not sure what percentage of the population would support the decision. I would hope that it would be a very small percentage but I fear it is much larger than I would hope. I don’t think the people who support it could possibly be acting on any coherent principle either but people generally try to rationalize their views on things like this at least to themselves. I can’t figure out how a person could rationalize supporting this.

I also can’t figure out how a person could rationalize supporting this.  But sadly there are always those who seem able to rationalize anything.  They pick a side or an issue and then support it unwaveringly.  And often at the expense of the very thing they are supporting (e.g. a military to be proud of needs to be carefully regulated to ensure that it remains deserving of that pride).  Simplistic black-and-white thinking and/or tough-guy us-versus-them thinking. 

 

 
 
EN
 
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EN
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23 May 2019 09:30
 

In their minds it falls under the “all’s fair in love and war” principle.  That principle can cover a multitude of sins.

 
no_profundia
 
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no_profundia
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23 May 2019 19:25
 

If Gallagher is pardoned, it would actually be the historically more normal outcome…

I have no doubt you are right from an historical perspective and I don’t find it at all hard to understand why governments would act this way. From an entirely cynical self-interested perspective there is probably very little upside to investigating and prosecuting war crimes vigilantly. Governments would be purposely shining a light on something that makes them look bad and what would they be gaining?

But, from a moral standpoint I think it is undeniable that it would be the right thing to do, so what I am trying to understand are the people who would agree with that in the abstract - i.e. that US soldiers should not be allowed to murder people and should be punished if they do - but also are fine with the President pardoning convicted war criminals. How are they justifying that to themselves?

This is not the same as the question about why governments behave that way or how we can prevent this (though I think that is an important question to ponder). I am simply wondering how the people who would support Trump’s decision to pardon a convicted war criminal justify that position to themselves.

I also can’t figure out how a person could rationalize supporting this.  But sadly there are always those who seem able to rationalize anything.  They pick a side or an issue and then support it unwaveringly.  And often at the expense of the very thing they are supporting (e.g. a military to be proud of needs to be carefully regulated to ensure that it remains deserving of that pride).  Simplistic black-and-white thinking and/or tough-guy us-versus-them thinking.

Yes, I agree people are capable of rationalizing pretty much anything, even when it undercuts what they think they are defending. I find it very depressing at times.

In their minds it falls under the “all’s fair in love and war” principle.  That principle can cover a multitude of sins.

Yes, I do expect this is part of it. One argument I have heard is that people who have never been to war should not judge Gallagher (and you hear the same argument when people criticize the police). I guess the implication is the rules go out the window in war because it is so different from the context of our ordinary everday lives.

I find this argument a bit baffling. I guess the argument goes something like this:

1. You don’t know how you would behave in the same situation
2. Therefore, you should not judge someone else’s behavior when they are in a situation you have never been in

Leaving aside the fact that I am fairly confident I would not stab an injured prisoner to death if I found myself in a combat situation the underlying premise of this argument seems to be “if I would have acted the same way in the same situation then it can’t be wrong because nothing I would do could be wrong, since I am obviously a good person.

I don’t know how I would behave in a combat situation but that does not change my view that if I murdered someone, I should be punished for it. The notion that anything I would do would be right and good, because I’m a good person, makes no sense to me, so I really don’t need to know how I would act in the same situation.

 
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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24 May 2019 16:07
 

I can’t for the life of me come up with any principled argument that would support pardoning convicted war criminals

Neither can I.  I would think the military brass would want these criminals prosecuted and punished, publicly, if only to partially offset the damage to the reputation of the military.  I wonder what they think of Trump’s inclination to pardon?  As good soldiers, I doubt they would comment publicly, but damn I’d love to be a fly on the wall at a meeting of the Joint Chiefs on this one.