Gallagher was charged with shooting at civilians for sport, including an Iraqi school girl and an elderly man. Witnesses testified that he stabbed a wounded teenage captive multiple times and posed with his mutilated corpse. Eventually convicted on a minor count of bringing discredit to the armed forces, Gallagher was demoted one step. Overriding internal military processes, the president restored his rank.
President Trump’s intervention evinces a callous disregard for the lives of victims and survivors, the rule of law, and the military justice system. For him, it was irrelevant that the service members violated clearly established laws of war. The fact that they did so while wearing an American uniform made them beyond reproach. “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!” he lamented on Twitter in October.
Citing harms to the integrity of the military legal system and undue command influence, former military leaders expressed concern that the pardons may encourage more impunity for war crimes. They aren’t wrong, but they are very late.
This country has been on a war footing for more than 18 years, with no end in sight. Since U.S. troops were first stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been numerous reports of war crimes committed by service members and military contractors. A self-described “kill team” was accused of hunting Afghans for the thrill of it. There was systemic abuse of prisoners by the military and the CIA in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib. Contractors massacred Iraqi civilians in Fallujah and Haditha and Nisour Square.