Donald Trump was on the receiving end of a stern editorial from the editors of the conservative Wall Street Journal, instructing the president to keep his nose out of military war crime investigations, trials and verdicts despite the fact that he is the commander-in-chief.
Under an editorial headed by Trump and the SEALs, the editors took up the president’s controversial decision to insert himself into the military justice system in the case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher who, as the Journal describes him, “was court-martialed but acquitted of all charges except for posing for a photograph with a dead enemy captive.”
Pointing out “Mr. Trump intervened to restore his rank, but SEAL commanders and senior civilians and military officers in the chain of command wanted to empanel a review board to consider his continuing as a SEAL,” the editors noted that the controversy led to the forced resignation of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer.
“It’s hard to sort the truth from fiction given the tendentious media coverage, but we’ll give it a try. Mr. Trump has the clear authority to act as he did, and he isn’t the first Commander in Chief to intervene in military discipline. Jimmy Carter pardoned thousands who dodged the draft in the Vietnam War. Mr. Esper was also right, even obliged, to fire Mr. Spencer if the Navy Secretary went behind his back,” the editorial allowed. “The question is whether Mr. Trump was wise to intervene and what unintentional damage he might be doing to discipline in the war-fighting ranks. Chief Gallagher seems to have been brought to Mr. Trump’s attention after he became a cause célèbre on TV. ‘We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!,’ Mr. Trump put it in an October 12 tweet.”
With that, the editors drew a line in the sand.
“This is wrong,” the editors wrote. “The military doesn’t train young men and women to be killing machines. The services train them to be soldiers with judgment who will kill when needed but within the laws of war. Mr. Trump has loosened the rules of military engagement in some theaters, which has made sense. But that doesn’t mean killing unarmed combatants and civilians or abusing captives. This is a key difference between American soldiers and the unlawful enemy combatants in Islamic State.”
According to the Journal, “Our sources say military leaders want to clean this up, and they are worried about a message of tolerance for misbehavior that Mr. Trump’s intervention into Chief Gallagher’s case might send,” with the editors concurring before delivering a rebuke to the president.
“A generation of officers had to rebuild the war-fighting culture after Vietnam, which they did with great success, and the military is a rare institution that Americans say they still trust. As Commander in Chief, Mr. Trump will undermine the officers under his command if he runs roughshod over their effort to maintain good order and discipline,” the editorial concluded.
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