Today fallout continues from Trump’s pardons of accused and/or convicted war criminals. Yesterday Dakinikat wrote about the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer over an internal review board investigation of Eddie Gallagher, a Navy Seal who was convicted of posing for a trophy photo of a dead ISIS fighter. Gallagher was also accused of stabbing to death the teenager in the photo was acquitted.
In today’s New York Times, two former Navy secretaries Richard J. Danzig and write: Trump and the Military Do Not Share the Same Values.
“Get back to business!” With this tweet, President Trump directed his secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, to stop the naval officers charged with oversight of the SEALs from disciplining one of their own. That order was confirmed on Monday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and over the weekend, Mr. Spencer was fired.
There are three problems with Mr. Trump’s action. The first is that it is very much the Navy’s business — and every military’s business — to maintain, as the military so often recites and Mr. Spencer put it in his final letter to the president, “good order and discipline.” In conducting their “business,” our military services are not and must not be commanded in support of political ends, as Mr. Trump was apparently doing here.
How the president chooses to value order and discipline in his White House, and if at all, is of real concern to all Americans. But the military is not an extension of his White House. Some may argue that all actions by a president may have some political component, yet instead of constraining that component, this action by this president celebrates and encourages it.
The second problem intensifies the first. Contamination from the president’s approach is amplified when his judgment is largely shaped by television commentators and his decision announced by tweet. The military has well-established procedures for assuring good order and discipline. They begin by eliciting a judgment by peers. No one is as well positioned to balance the exigencies of combat and the demands of law and ethics as a panel of fellow sailors, Marines, airmen or soldiers….
Finally, there is the judgment itself. An American service member shared a photograph of himself with a corpse along with the message: “I have got a cool story for you when I get back. I have got my knife skills on.” Our president’s endorsement of the perpetrator will be taken as a representation of our values. Our own troops, many of them teenagers, will be misled by the president’s sense, or lack of sense, of honor.
Paul Waldman at The Washington Post: How Richard Spencer’s firing illustrates some of Trump’s most corrupt impulses.
One key reason Donald Trump’s presidency has been so damaging is that he has a way of corrupting all the people and institutions he comes in contact with, infecting them with his virus. No one remains untouched.
As the sudden firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer shows, that includes the military. Spencer’s story also bears a remarkable resemblance to the Ukraine scandal, in the way people with their own agendas played on Trump’s most repugnant impulses to manipulate him.
Spencer’s firing has its roots in the case of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who became a Fox News hero. Gallagher’s long and complicated case began when members of his own unit accused him of a series of war crimes, including firing on civilians and murdering a wounded teenage Islamic State fighter receiving medical treatment from his unit.
Gallagher allegedly stabbed the wounded fighter multiple times, then took a picture with his corpse and texted it to friends, with the caption “Got him with my hunting knife.” He was also charged with covering up his crime by threatening to kill members of his platoon if they reported it. They did anyway….
Trump pardoned him, along with two other service members who had also been accused of war crimes.
Those pardons generated enormous controversy both inside and outside the military, but they were not surprising. From the time he began running for president, Trump has shown nothing but contempt for ideas like military order and discipline, respect for human rights and standards of wartime conduct. He has advocated torturing detainees, suggested that a way to fight terrorism would be to murder the families of suspected terrorists and mused about committing genocide. Accused war criminals are his kind of people.
There’s much more at the link. I hope you’ll go read the rest.
Spencer stepped down at the request of Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday amid an ongoing controversy over Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, whose case attracted President Trump’s attention.
Esper told reporters Monday that he fired Spencer after “losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor.” He accused Spencer of secretly proposing a deal to the White House that would allow Gallagher to retire and retain his Trident pin, which denotes his status as a SEAL, a move Esper said was “completely contrary” to what the two had discussed.
In an interview Monday, Spencer told CBS News he spoke with White House counsel Pat Cipollone on November 15 and proposed an arrangement in which Gallagher would be allowed to retire as a SEAL if the president agreed not to intervene in the case and “let the Navy do its administrative work.” Spencer said Cipollone called back the same day to decline the offer, saying the president would be involved.
“In order to preserve the resiliency of the naval institution, I had to step up and do something when it came to the Gallagher case,” Spencer said.
Spencer acknowledged not telling Esper about the proposal.
“I will take the bad on me, for not letting him know I did that,” Spencer said. “But as far as I was concerned, at that point, the president understood the deal. Arguably, he doesn’t have to deal with anyone. He said, ‘I’m going to be involved.’ He sent a signed letter to me, an order with his signature on it, saying, ‘Promote Edward Gallagher to E7,'” the rank of chief petty officer.
Esper acknowledged Monday that when confronted about his secret negotiations with the White House, Spencer “was completely forthright in admitting what had been going on.”
Read more at the link.
The Independent spoke to veterans about the situation: US veterans say Trump views military ‘as tool for massacres’ after reinstating accused war criminal to Navy.
Numerous veterans spoke out about the move to The Independent after Secretary of Defence Mark Esper confirmed he was ordered by the president to retain Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s status in the elite service, as well as his Trident pin, a prestigious special warfare insignia.
“Ever since Donald Trump became president he’s been tearing the military apart, putting troops in the difficult position of needing to choose between obedience to his unhinged orders, and staying true to our code of honour,” said Alexander McCoy, a former Marine and political director of the veteran group Common Defence. “By pardoning war criminals because Fox News told him to, Trump showed he sees our military as a tool for massacres, not as the professional, honourable force we aspire to be.” [….]
The president’s demands could cause “significant long-term damage to the Naval Special Warfare community,” according to James Waters, a former Navy SEAL platoon commander and White House staff member in the Bush administration, who told The Independent: “The only people who weigh in on whether a Navy SEAL deserves to keep his Trident are people who have their Trident.”
“Every SEAL knows he must ‘earn your Trident every day’ – even after officially qualifying – and the same standard should apply here,” Mr Waters said. “Unless you’ve been through Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training and served in the Teams and know the specific facts related to a person’s performance, you’re not qualified to weigh in.” [….]
“There’s a reason we have the Geneva Convention. There’s a reason we have the Universal Code of Military Justice. There’s a reason we have the morale and ethics that we learn in training,” said Josh Manning, a former Army intelligence officer. “For Trump to just step in and undermine centuries worth of morale and discipline undercuts the very military that he’s trying to command.” [….]
Charlotte Clymer, an Army Veteran and press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, said Mr Trump appeared to be “hell-bent on exploiting” the military justice system for his own purposes.
“My colleagues and I, those still serving and not, are openly horrified by the way this coward has explicitly condoned war crimes, seemingly to pander to people who don’t understand how this undermines our moral authority,” she told The Independent. “I’ve talked to other service members and veterans, and none of us are sure how this could get worse.”
They’re suggesting that Trump wants to take us back to Vietnam years when we had shameful incidents like the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
In a final outrage, Trump now says he wants to use the pardoned war criminals in his 2020 campaign. Daily Beast: Trump Tells Allies He Wants Absolved War Criminals to Campaign for Him.
If Donald Trump gets his wish, he’ll soon take the three convicted or accused war criminals he spared from consequence on the road as special guests in his re-election campaign, according to two sources who have heard Trump discuss their potential roles for the 2020 effort.
Despite military and international backlash to Trump’s Nov. 15 clemency—fallout from which cost Navy Secretary Richard Spencer his job on Sunday—Trump believes he has rectified major injustices. Two people tell The Daily Beast they’ve heard Trump talk about how he’d like to have the now-cleared Clint Lorance, Matthew Golsteyn, or Edward Gallagher show up at his 2020 rallies, or even have a moment on stage at his renomination convention in Charlotte next year. Right-wing media have portrayed all three as martyrs brought down by “political correctness” within the military.
“He briefly discussed making it a big deal at the convention,” said one of these sources, who requested anonymity to talk about private conversations. “The president made a reference to the 2016 [convention] and where they brought on-stage heroes” like former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who refused to execute detained civilians ahead of a devastating Taliban attack.
So next year he wants to celebrate men who chose to execute civilians and detainees?
What stories are you following today?
Taylor Marsh has some very good advice for the Obama Campaign, and I hope they’re paying attention.
The partisan back and forth on the bin Laden raid began a few days ago when the Obama campaign released a video of Bill Clinton praising President Obama for his decision to order a raid on the bin Laden compound in Pakistan one year ago tomorrow.
Romney has been hammering Obama, with the help of the media, with fake outrage over the “politicization” of the raid. That seems like a pretty ridiculous considering the way the Bush administration–and the Republican Party as a whole–politicized 9/11 again and again and again for seven straight years.
The question arose based on a piece by Toby Harden in the Daily Mail. Harnden claims that “serving and former Seals” are angry that Obama is “using [them] as ammunition” in his reelection campaign.
According to Hastings,
The frustration—or, even anger—within the SEAL community is real, and has been brewing for months, particularly among a politically conservative core of operators. It started immediately after the raid, with questions among the Special Forces and intelligence community of whether the president should have waited to announce the kill to exploit the intelligence cache at Osama’s compound. It simmered after a Chinook helicopter was shot down, killing 30 Americans, 22 of them Navy SEALs from Team Six.
Was it a coincidence, SEALs asked themselves, catastrophe hit Team Six so soon after being named as the team responsible for the killing?
As Taylor Marsh points out, this is a serious issue and one the White House and the Obama Campaign need to get out ahead of unless they want to end up like John Kerry, who didn’t believe that anyone would take attacks on his heroic military record seriously. Marsh writes:
Coming from Hastings, whose reporting has been golden since the career ending interview with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, continuing in his book, which has been widely lauded, this should send shock waves through Obama reelect, with someone in the “war room” investigating it immediately, if only to be prepared.
John Kerry wasn’t prepared.
May the gods help Obama reelect if the right-wing rabble of Rush and Sean decide to take hold of this one, because they’ll never let go. Jerome Corsi is likely investigating it as you read this column. Having been burned on his birther book, he’s got to be chomping at the bit to find another angle to try to take down Obama….
Everyone’s still writing about the political gamesmanship going on, missing the potential news in Hastings’ Buzzfeed piece.
In addition, Hastings indicates that White House insiders are talking out of school:
But as the stagey outrage over the politicization of foreign policy from Mitt Romney and his Republican allies gained momentum over this past weekend, White House officials started to have their doubts. Was spiking the football, again, and again, and again, in a public such a good idea? Was it necessary? Was the campaign in Chicago, White House officials wondered, going too far?
I agree with Marsh that:
One can only imagine who these unnamed “White House officials” are, but someone at 1600 better get a grip on these leaks, because in a tough election cycle they can be a politician’s undoing, especially when it revolves a story so potentially explosive.
In the wake of the Osama bin Laden killing, the media seems to have pretty much given itself up to “war porn” or at least something very close to it. I have to admit it’s starting to creep me out.
There is one article after another describing the bin Laden takedown and tons of articles glorifying the Navy Seals who pulled it off. This breathless piece at CBS News gives a blow by blow account of the raid on the home where bin Laden had been living. According to this account the Seals turned off their video cameras (on their helmets apparently) during the most intense violence.
The raiders trying to get into the house breached three or four walls, Panetta said, not specifying whether they scaled them or blew holes.
On the first floor, the SEALs killed the courier and his brother, and the courier’s wife died in crossfire. They shot open some doors.
They then swept upstairs and burst into a third floor room, entering one at a time, said Carney. There all the U.S. intelligence, the surmising and the guesswork paid off.
Bin Laden’s wife charged at the SEALs, crying her husband’s name at one point. They shot her in the calf. Officials told AP that one SEAL grabbed a woman, fearing she might be wearing a suicide vest, and pulled her away from his team. Whether that was bin Laden’s wife has not been confirmed….
The first bullet struck bin Laden in the chest. The second struck above his left eye, blowing away part of his skull.
Oooooh….just like in the movies!
There are countless video reenactments of the raid floating around, like this one from The New York Post.
And then there are the stories about the supercool equipment the Seals used to get public enemy number one. Here’s an example: 9 Tools That Probably Helped the U.S. Military Take Down bin Laden, including the drone that spied on the bin Laden compound, the assault rifle and submachine gun used to kill him, the image sensors, the grenades, and coolest of the cool, the previously super-secret Stealth Black Hawk Helicopter the Seals arrived in. According to Gizmodo:
MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters played a key role in the success of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, especially ones that were heavily modded for stealth movement through Pakistan. Designed for use in special forces missions, these Night Stalker helicopters can carry 11 soldiers, come with three types of guns (mini, chain, gatling), and come equipped with infra-red jammers to mislead missiles.
Isn’t that inspiring? Here is some more information about these killer machines, plus the Chinook helicopters that were also used in the raid. It’s from AP, so I’m not going to link.
The two choppers evidently used radar-evading technologies, plus noise and heat suppression devices, to slip across the Afghan-Pakistan border, avoid detection by Pakistani air defenses and deliver two dozen Navy SEALs into the al-Qaida leader’s lair. Photos of the lost chopper’s wrecked tail are circulating online — proving it exists and also exposing sensitive details.
See what I mean? War porn.
The reason one of the helicopters crash landed at the bin Laden compound has not been disclosed, but Daniel Goure, a defense specialist at the Lexington Institute think tank, said Friday it might be explained by the unusual aerodynamics resulting from the aircraft’s modifications….
Night Stalker pilots also fly other, publicly acknowledged versions of the Black Hawk that are specially equipped with advanced navigation systems, plus devices allowing for low-level and all-weather flight, day or night. Those are rigged to permit occupants to “fast rope” from the helicopter as it hovers just off the ground — a technique used in the bin Laden assault.
Now watch the “Night Stalker” in action and tell me these videos aren’t designed to turn on people who fantasize about violence.
It appears that the Obama administration hasn’t yet slaked it’s thirst for blood, because a drone strike was used today in a failed attempt to kill Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American citizen whom the President has targeted for assassination.
According to a Yemeni account of Thursday’s strike, the U.S. launched two separate attacks within 45 minutes aimed at Mr. Awlaki in the southern province of Shebwa, which is considered an AQAP stronghold….
In the first strike, the U.S. fired three rockets at a pickup truck in which Mr. Awlaki and a Saudi national and suspected al Qaeda member were traveling outside the village of Jahwa, located some 20 miles away from the Shebwa provincial capital, said local residents and the Yemeni security official. Those missiles didn’t hit their target.
Two Yemeni brothers, who were known by local residents for giving shelter to al Qaeda militants, rushed to the scene of the attack. Mr. Awlaki switched vehicles with them, leaving the two Yemenis in the pickup. A single drone then hit the pickup truck, killing the Yemenis inside.
Mr. Awlaki escaped in the other vehicle along with the Saudi. A Yemeni defense ministry official identified the two dead men as Musaid Mubarak Al-Daghari and his brother Abdullah.Unlike the bin Laden raid, which was carried out without Pakistani knowledge, the Yemeni government was a participant.
All this detailed information about the recent violent events hasn’t made them feel any more real to me. On the contrary, the media treatment makes it all feel like a big fantasy. I guess that’s why I want to call it war porn. Several real people were killed in these attacks–people who have families and children who aren’t vicious criminals. But what I see in the media is something akin to a Rambo movie or a video game. It’s all making me feel very uneasy.
What do you think?