Trump earns new title: War criminal
President Donald Trump before a row of tanks in Lima, Ohio. | Evan Vucci / AP

Donald Trump, who has been called almost everything—racist demagogue, vulgar sexist, inept businessman, pathological liar, and moron—now assumes a new mantle: War Criminal.

His latest steps into the inner sanctums of infamy involve his granting a pardon on May 6 to an ex-soldier, First Lt. Michael Behenna, who shot to death a naked Iraqi civilian, Ali Mansur in 2009. The Iraqi man had been detained by U.S. military officials on suspicion that he had had knowledge of a roadside bombing that killed two American soldiers. After being interrogated by intelligence officers, however, Mansur’s release was ordered because of lack of evidence.

Behenna was ordered to drive Mansur home. But instead of taking the prisoner home as ordered, Behenna took Mansur to a railroad culvert, stripped him naked, questioned him at gunpoint, and shot him in the head and chest. This case attracted widespread attention across the U.S., bringing focus on the treatment of prisoners by the American military overseas.

Behenna was tried and sentenced to 25 years in prison, of which he served five, for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. He was released on parole in 2014.

“This pardon is a presidential endorsement of a murder that violated the military’s own code of justice,” Hina Shamsi, the ACLU’s national security project director, said in a statement first reported by The Hill. Legally, this makes Trump an accomplice after the fact to a war crime. Legally, this makes Trump himself a war criminal. Also, this intervention amounts an obstruction of justice—sound familiar?

Trump’s pardon of Behenna is part of a larger trend of him intervening in cases of soldiers who have committed war crimes.

On March 30, Trump ordered the U.S. Navy to remove Edward Gallagher from Naval Consolidated Brig in Miramar, California, to less restrictive conditions. Gallagher, a Navy Seal, is accused of the grisly killing of a wounded teenage ISIS prisoner in 2017 and also of shooting Iraqi civilians and performing his re-enlistment ceremony next to a dead body. “I got him with my hunting knife” boasted Gallagher, allegedly texting a photo of himself cradling the dead teenager’s head in one hand while holding a knife in the other. He allegedly murdered the wounded prisoner by stabbing him in the neck and body. What next, a picture with a decapitated head?

Gallagher is facing a war crimes trial at the end of May. In March, Trump announced that Gallagher would be moved to “less restrictive confinement” pending his court date. He now has the freedom to move around the base until the trial.

Turning back the clock, the plot thickens as Trump has shown himself to be a shameless, brazen advocate of war crimes. In defending his CIA nominee, Gina Haspel, in 2018, Trump took a position in support of torture—a war crime under both international and U.S. law. Haspel was in charge of a secret prison in Thailand, where she reportedly carried out a grisly torture program, including the waterboarding of detainees. She also was allegedly responsible for the destruction of dozens of tapes recording episodes of torture.

Dubbed “ Bloody Gina” by protesters to her nomination, in June of 2017 the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) called on the Public Prosecutor General of Germany to issue an arrest warrant against Haspel involving claims she oversaw the torture of terrorism suspects. The criminal complaint and the follow-up submissions are under consideration by German prosecutors as part of a preliminary examination. Haspel is currently the Director of the CIA—a war criminal and international fugitive now heads the agency!

In July of 2017, Trump closed the U.S. war crimes office. This was the Office of Global Criminal Justice which advised the Secretary of State on cases involving war crimes and genocide. It was established by Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, in 1997. Its closing evoked a chorus of outrage from human rights advocates worldwide and presaged more support of war crimes by this iniquitous U.S. administration.

During his presidential campaign in 2015, Trump went so far to say he would force the U.S. military to commit war crimes. “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump said on Fox and Friends on Dec. 2, 2015. “They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”

This brings to mind the many massacres of Indigenous women, children, and the elderly by the American military in the 18th and 19th centuries. Trump then said he would instruct the military to initiate interrogation torture practices far worse than waterboarding. He’s in favor of it because “we have to beat the savages.” Torture and retaliatory murders are both war crimes under international law.

“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work — torture works…. Waterboarding is fine, but it’s not nearly tough enough, ok?” he said.

The U.S. armed forces have been trained that an order to commit a war crime is not a legal order and must not be obeyed. Trump said on the campaign trail, “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.” In effect, Trump said he would force the U.S. military to commit war crimes.

Former 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, seen here in 2008, has received a presidential pardon for his 2009 conviction in the killing of an Iraqi detainee. | Vanessa Gera / AP

Next, in April of this year, the Trump administration revoked the visa of International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, as part of a U.S. government effort to impede the tribunal’s investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the U.S. military in Afghanistan. The ICC is an international tribunal headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, that prosecutes individuals for crimes of aggression, crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes—but only when other countries are unwilling to pursue these violations of international law.

At present, 124 nations have ratified the Rome Statute and are members of the ICC Assembly of States Parties. While the U.S. played a role in the establishment of the Rome Statute that created the ICC, the U.S is not a State Party. The Trump administration actively opposes its jurisdiction on the international stage.

The ICC’s decided not to pursue the investigation, and Trump called the panel’s ruling a “major international victory” for the U.S. military and targeted intelligence officers, as well as for the rule of law. Trump signaled that the current visa sanctions will remain in place and threatened to issue new ones if there are any “attempts to target Americans, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution.”

The U.S. public has to know the full extent of the lawlessness and racist animus of this executive who sits in the Oval Office. This monster who heads the U.S. government envisions a lawless regime that would rival Hitler’s Germany. Although substantial numbers of racist whites still support him, the saving grace for this country is that they are not the majority and that the U.S. is a multiracial country with a multiracial military.

As Democratic Congressman from California Adam Schiff recently said on the Sunday morning news program This Week with George Stephanopoulos, “The U.S. cannot survive four more years of Trump.”

Trump’s got to go.


Albert Bender
Albert Bender

Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty and working on a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous sovereignty, land restoration, and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) issues and a former staff attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma (LSEO) in Muskogee, Okla.