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Wed 11 December 2019
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When anti-Muslim rhetoric is combined with the rewarding of war crimes against Muslims, the consequences are grave – not only for Muslim Americans but the US military, CJ Werleman argues.


The US President’s pardoning of two US soldiers accused of war crimes, and a sentence reduction for a third – despite strong objections from the Pentagon – “run against the letter and the spirit of international law which requires accountability for such violations”, said the United Nations human Rights Commission on Tuesday.

Last week, Donald Trump granted a full pardon to Clint Lorance, a former Army lieutenant, releasing him from prison where he was serving a 19-year sentence for murdering two civilians in Afghanistan; and Major Matthew L. Golsteyn, an Army Special Forces officer who faced murder charges for killing an unarmed Afghan civilian; while also reversing the demotion of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murder charges but ultimately convicted for taking photos with the body of a teenage captive’s body.

“While pardons exist in international law, and can properly address issues of injustice or unfairness, these pardons send a disturbing signal to military forces all around the world,” said Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 

They also send a “disturbing signal” to armed agents of the state, alongside right-wing militias and extremists of all stripes – at a time when the US currently finds itself in the midst of a white nationalist domestic terrorism crisis. Since the end of 2017, right-wing groups and individuals are responsible for 100% of all extremist murders and terrorist attacks that have occurred on American soil.

“35% of the Republican Party believes that Obama’s a Muslim born in Kenya. He’s locked that crowd down”

Senator Lindsay Graham

The message Trump is sending is that, if unflinching loyalty is displayed towards him, then both international and domestic laws don’t apply – including those which legislate against the murder of unarmed civilians or citizens, but particularly against Muslims.

Trump is “betraying everyone in uniform who trusts… the rules that 99% of them follow – that when they are violated, folks are going to be held accountable,” Rachel VanLandingham, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles and a former Air Force judge advocate, told Stars and Stripes magazine. “If someone thinks they are going to be judge, jury and executioner and decides, ‘I’m going to kill this guy because he’s ISIS,’ but [the enemy fighter is] out of the fight and you kill him anyway – that is called disobedience of orders. It’s called murder.”

Essentially, Trump is advocating – at least tacitly – that murdering Muslims is perfectly acceptable, even as hate crimes against minorities have hit a 16-year high in the United States, with 4,571 incidences, including 1,664 that targeted Muslims, recorded in 2018, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Trump has gained much political capital by demonising Muslims, from falsely claiming that the country’s first black president – Barack Obama – was a foreign-born Muslim, to introducing a ban on Muslim immigrants and declaring “Islam hates us”.

During the 2016 Republican Party presidential primary, Senator Lindsay Graham, who has recently morphed himself into a Trump sycophant out of political necessity, explained the businessman’s lead among the party faithful. “35% of my party believes that Obama’s a Muslim born in Kenya,” he said. “He’s locked that crowd down.”

More to the point, Trump has openly advocated war crimes against Muslims since taking office. He has said that the US military should “take out” the families of suspected terrorists and routinely tells his rallies of a supposed atrocity ordered by US General John Pershing in the Philippines to suppress a Muslim Moro rebellion in the early 20th Century.

“And there’s a whole thing with swine and animals and pigs, and you know the story OK?” said Trump at a 2016 campaign rally. “They don’t like that. And they were having a tremendous problem with terrorism. He took 50 terrorists, and he took 50 men, and he dipped 50 bullets in pig’s blood. You heard that right? He took 50 bullets and he dipped them in pig’s blood, and he had his men load up his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people and the 50th person, he said, ‘you go back to your people and you tell them what happened.’”

Trump cites this fictional story as a means to garner support for discriminatory counter-terrorism strategies in order to mobilise his Muslim-hating base. He loves war and hate crimes – especially against Muslims. The President is having a devastating affect on Muslim American citizens.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick found a correlation between Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes against Muslims and that this correlation is far stronger than many had previously thought. Data in the research showed “strong statistical correlations between the number of Islam-related tweets made by Trump in a single week and the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes that took place in the days and weeks that followed”.

It doesn’t take a social psychologist to understand that, when an anti-Muslim rhetoric is combined with the rewarding of war crimes against Muslims, the results are negative – not only for Muslim Americans but also members of the US military.

“[Trump] plays into our enemies’ narrative, which is that we don’t care about Muslim lives,” Eric Carpenter, a former Army prosecutor and defence attorney, told Stars and Stripes.

Ultimately, pardoning convicted war criminals harms Muslims and the US military, but it plays well with a certain section of Trump’s base. For the current occupant of the White House, political expediency is all that really matters. Morals, ethics, valour, honour and decency be damned.


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