Trump’s Possible Pardons Of War Crimes Could Themselves Be War Crimes

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released a public statement addressing what international law has to say with respect to pardons for war crimes like the ones being considered by President Donald Trump, Just Security reports. The statement is titled “ICRC Explainer: What does international law say about pardons for war crimes?” and while it does not mention the president by name, it is an extraordinarily unusual public statement from the group and aligns clearly with some controversial pardons under consideration by the Trump Administration.

The ICRC is an international organization that most typically conducts its work confidentially through private communications between parties in armed conflict. The group does not comment on specific cases or situations and does not generally release public statements such as this one.

“The fact that the organization chose to weigh in on such a hot button issue suggests how serious a threat such action by President Trump would be to the system of international law,” writes Just Security’s Gabor Rona.

The controversial pardons under consideration include several individual cases.

Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs is preparing to stand trial on charges that while deployed in Iraq, he shot unarmed civilians and needlessly stabbed a prisoner to death. Nicholas A. Slatten, a former Blackwater contractor, was convicted of first-degree murder for a 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis. Major Mathew L. Golsteyn is an Army Green Beret who allegedly killed an unarmed Afghan in 2010. And finally, there is a group of Marine snipers who were charged with urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters.

Each of these cases represents war crimes. They each run contrary to “the principle of distinction,” which codifies that combatants may target enemy combatants, but that civilians, or even combatants no longer participating in combat (such as POWs). Those who are deceased are also included in this distinction, hence the legal action against the Marine snipers.

The ICRC, in their statement, provides context about pardons, amnesty, and war crimes. In their conclusion, which again is not directed specifically to the Trump Administration, they say the following.

“Customary law is unequivocal that … governments must investigate war crimes allegedly committed by their nationals or armed forces, or on their territory, and if appropriate, prosecute suspects. With regard to amnesty, the objective should not be to enable war criminals, or those thought to have seriously violated the laws of war, to evade punishment for their actions.”