Combat isn’t black and white -- I know, I’ve lived it.
When it was announced over the weekend by the New York Times that President Trump is preparing to pardon multiple veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have been wrongfully convicted or charged with war crimes, a firestorm of opinions and accusations began to fly.
Salon described President Trump’s decision to pardon veterans as taking “imperial overreach to a new level;” The Washington Post’s Editorial Board said “such pardons would send a message of disrespect for the laws of war;” and The New Yorker published an interview with Yale Philosophy Professor Scott Shapiro who argued that pardoning military veterans was inherently racist.
Despite the fact that not one of these authors has ever seen even a glimpse of combat firsthand, I wasn’t surprised at the outcry. Having dealt with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the resistance in Iraq, I can attest to the fact that the so-called “laws of war” as described by Shapiro are seen much differently by our enemies… and the enemy employs no Rules of Engagement (ROEs) to limit their violence.
What I did find particularly disappointing was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Tweet on Monday, in which she described the pardoning of military veterans as “grotesque.”
Never mind the fact that most of the alleged “war crimes” President Trump is considering for review took place under her watch, the more disturbing fact other than any argument from the New York Times or Secretary Clinton is the ease with which those with influence dismiss the presumption of innocence.
Although our Constitution does not state it explicitly, for 232 years, the presumption of innocence has been a fundamental individual right drawn from our 5th, 6th, and 14th Amendments. Over a century ago, our Supreme Court described the presumption of innocence as “undoubted, axiomatic and elementary.” It is, the Court said, “unquestioned in the textbooks” and can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome.
Unfortunately, some in the media, certain politicians, and a few in academia seem to have abandoned our tried and true principle of the presumption of innocence when it comes to our veterans. Before most of these trials even begin, veterans who face war crimes have their innocence ripped from them based solely on the opinions of people who have a political agenda.
The high profile cases of Army Special Forces Major Matt Golsteyn and Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher are perfect examples of this unfortunate turn in legal debate. Golsteyn has been referred to as a murderer and Gallagher was described in the New York Times as: “Stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death. Picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost. Indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire,” -- all before even an ounce of evidence or testimony had been presented in court.
Before we throw away the ‘presumption of innocence’ -- the respected legal precedent which has saved many men and women from the injustice of false accusations and horror of lynch mobs -- we should all take pause, especially for our veterans who willingly go in harm’s way on our behalf to protect it.