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Pardons, Military Discipline and the Burden on Our Troops

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Julie Watson

*Editors note:  Kurt Schlichter writes two articles for Mondays and Thursdays on Townhall.  On Wednesdays, he also writes a bonus special edition column (Nov. 20 'Tell the Nags to Go Home' here) for VIP members and supporters.  To help support conservative journalism and learn more about Townhall VIP, click here.



The predictable elite wailing and gnashing of teeth over President Trump’s pardons of various American warriors accused or convicted of alleged war crimes is typically tiresome. To our elite, the only good soldier is one who goes full Deep State – never go full Deep State – and collaborates with the ruling caste, or one who is in jail. That’s it. The rest are expendable pawns to be deployed to protect vital American interests like [Kurt consults his notes to make sure he has this right] obscure border disputes between significantly communist militias and a NATO ally on the side of the significantly communist militias.

I care nothing about what bow-tied bureaucrats, posing pols, and media hacks think. I care about our troops – but caring about our troops does not necessarily mean being ecstatic about this turn of events.

To the extent the pardons show that the president will back our troops where there is any doubt whatsoever, good. Our troops have a politically correct chain of command that the force perceives as far too willing to sacrifice them on the altar of field grade and flag officer careers when they make tough decisions.

To the extent the pardons show that he will square away those convicted in the ridiculous witch hunts that followed Trump’s outrageous crime of beating Stumbles McMyturn, good. When it’s politically safe, Trump should pardon everyone caught up in Mueller’s crusty coup.


To the extent the pardons irritate the elite, good. This presumptively makes them something we should support, though that presumption is rebuttable. Real war crimes must be punished.

To the extent that these pardons send a message that it is okay to violate military rules and the laws of war, it is less clear. Here’s the thing: we have a hyper-partisan political culture and the military brass is not immune, as we have seen in Congress lately. Its conduct in some of these cases has been utterly shameful.

For example, in the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, the JAGs literally used malware to spy on the defense team. Think about that. The JAGs literally used malware to spy on the defense team. Judge Schlichter – me in a hypothetical, not my mom in reality, since she was a judge – would have dismissed the entire case and referred the lawyers for prosecution themselves. It’s craziness. And it’s corrupt. A corrupt prosecution cannot stand – let’s put Adam Schiff aside for a moment – even if the accused is guilty of offing some ISIS punk. 

But, of course, the Navy JAGs’ prime witness got on the stand testified that he, not Gallagher, offed the ISIS punk. As a lawyer, this would have been kind of embarrassing. It was the ultimate Perry Mason moment, if Perry Mason was an idiot.

So, Gallagher had to be entirely exonerated because of prosecutorial misconduct, and since the military justice system did not have the integrity to enforce the standards – for shame – then it was right for the president to do so. 


Now, it does appear that Gallagher did take pics of and with dead enemies. This corpse desecration thing seems to come up a lot. On one hand, it’s against the regs, so you shouldn’t do it because it’s against the regs and NCOs should not violate the regs. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that the thought process behind these regs – we don’t want to make the enemy mad by expressing contempt for the scumbags we kill – is particularly coherent. Perhaps demonstrating our contempt for the dishonored dead makes more sense than prissily observing respect for them, respect their living pals would never show us (See, e.g., the treatment of our dead in Somalia in 1993). Disposing of the likes of Bin Laden and al-Baghdadi with respect instead of dropping their maggoty carcasses into a pig sty has not seemed to earn us any cred with the jihadi gang, so why not send a different message: “This is your fate if you screw with us.”

But it was against the rules, and Gallagher apparently did take a selfie with a stiff, and rules are important – vitally important in warfare. A military force has a structure of commissioned and non-commissioned officers for several reasons (planning, organization, logistics), but also, vitally, to impose control over a bunch of young men with deadly weapons. History is replete with examples of what happens when young men in the middle of war slip out of control.


Military discipline matters. But so does backing your guys’ play when they make tough, ugly calls.

Major Matt Golsteyn, an ex-Green Beret, was accused of killing an Afghan bomb maker. It was not in a firefight. He apparently sought the guy out and shot him. If they guy was a bomb maker, Golsteyn probably saved the limbs and lives of many Americans (and Afghans). But you are not allowed to freelance hits on the enemy, which itself seems odd since it is a war. 

And this all comes at a time when our elite forces are wracked with indiscipline. Look at the Mali murder, or the SEAL platoon withdrawn from deployment for drinking and other bad acts. Military discipline is essential. Do these pardons undercut it, or should these acts have been addressed outside the legal system? Golsteyn lost his Silver Star, his Special Forces tab and his career for this. Was that enough? Did they have to try to put him away for life?

Again, he apparently violated the rules, but then we have a rule which apparently means you can’t kill an enemy in a war zone. The fact that it’s a war zone and this enemy is drawing breath and we can’t take him out seems…troubling. Are we serious about this being a war or not? If it’s war, you kill the enemy, and if the enemy happens to be home in bed so what? But then, there are rules of engagement and you can’t have field grade officers ignoring them. See the problem?


I led soldiers. I know the importance of discipline. I also know history and human nature. We can’t put our troops out into a hostile fire zone where the enemy has no rules but can hide in plain sight behind ours, killing at will but being immunized from being killed by regulations, and not expect that status quo to grow untenable. 

Similarly, Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance was pardoned after doing six years of a 19-year stretch for having his troops shoot an alleged Taliban dirtbag outside the rules of engagement. Members of his own platoon testified against him, while the testimony of local Afghans was, shall we say, controversial. Even if he did it, was two decades in stir right? Or was six appropriate? Or maybe just a discharge? Or should he have got a medal?

I might care more if any of them would be doing time by Bowe Bergdahl, but they wouldn’t. He arguably caused American injuries and deaths, and he walked because Bergdahl was the kind of soldier our elites love.

It’s also important to understand that these cases are outliers. Some war crimes are so obviously wrong and dishonorable no one in uniform has a second thought frying the perpetrators. At the other extreme are the men and women in uniform who do their job every day within the bounds of rules and regulations that often make no sense.

These pardons come in cases that are not crystal clear, where the alleged acts brought no personal gain but arguably protected our troops even if they allegedly violated military law. Unlike Bergdahl, who the military justice system essentially let off, none were traitors. I guess I’m happy that these nightmares have ended for these warriors and their families. I remain unhappy that they were put in that situation in the first place. 


On a lighter note, if you like thrillers that mock political correctness, you can pre-order Collapse, my hard-hitting sequel to People's Republic, Indian Country and/or Wildfire. The Kelly Turnbull novels have been hailed by Bill Kristol as “Appalling,” so that’s a thing that occurred!

***One last thing.  On Wednesdays, there's BONUS KURT if you're a Townhall VIP member.  Sign up today.  Three Kurts is better than two.

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