Trump pardons and reinstates three more war criminals against his own DOD

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan and restored the rank of a Navy SEAL platoon commander who was demoted for actions in Iraq, a move critics have said would undermine military justice and send a message that battlefield atrocities will be tolerated.

The White House said in a statement Trump granted full pardons to First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Major Mathew Golsteyn, and ordered that the rank Edward Gallagher held before he was convicted in a military trial this year be restored.

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history,” the statement said.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system.

“The President is part of the military justice system as the Commander-in-Chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature,” the spokesperson said.

In recent weeks, Pentagon officials had spoken with Trump about the cases, provided facts and emphasized the due process built into the military justice system.

The White House said in a statement Trump granted full pardons to First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Major Mathew Golsteyn, and ordered that the rank Edward Gallagher held before he was convicted in a military trial this year be restored.

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history,” the statement said.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system.

“The President is part of the military justice system as the Commander-in-Chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature,” the spokesperson said.

In recent weeks, Pentagon officials had spoken with Trump about the cases, provided facts and emphasized the due process built into the military justice system.

But presidents have occasionally granted pardons preemptively to individuals accused of or suspected of a crime.

The most famous such case was the blanket pardon President Gerald Ford bestowed on his predecessor, Richard Nixon, after Nixon’s resignation during the Watergate scandal in 1974.

[Reuters]

Trump: Erdoğan has ‘great relationship with the Kurds’

President Trump on Wednesday said his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has a “great relationship with the Kurds” amid concerns of possible ethnic violence against the minority group in northern Syria.

The two leaders met for the first time in Washington one month after Turkey launched its offensive into northeastern Syria against Kurdish forces allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS. Turkey claims the Kurdish group is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is designated as a terrorist group by both Ankara and Washington.

“I think the president has a great relationship with the Kurds,” Trump said. “Many Kurds live currently in Turkey, and they’re happy, and they’re taken care of, including health care — we were talking about it before — including health care and education and other things, so that’s really a misnomer.”

The question came from reporter Rahim Rashidi of the Iraqi Kurdistan network K24, who was dubbed “Mr. Kurd” by Trump during a press conference last year when discussing the fight against ISIS. Rashidi has adopted the nickname, putting it on business cards and introducing himself that way when interviewing the president and other lawmakers.

Erdoğan reasserted that Turkey’s offensive is rooting out “terrorist organizations.”

“We have no problems with the Kurds. We have problems with terrorist organizations, and of course you’re not going to own up to the terrorists, are you?” he asked.

Turkey is home to one of the largest populations of Kurdish minorities, about 19 percent of its population.

[The Hill]

Trump’s Syria strategy: Get out, but “keep the oil”

A U.S. military convoy withdrawing from Syria for Iraq today was pelted with fruit and stones by Kurdish civilians who accuse the superpower they once saw as their protector of leaving them in peril. 

Driving the news: “We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives,” President Trump responded back in Washington. He said the U.S. would keep small detachments in Syria at the request of Israel and Jordan and to “protect the oil,” but there was otherwise “no reason” to remain.

  • “We want to keep the oil, and we’ll work something out with the Kurds. … Maybe we’ll have one of our big oil companies to go in and do it properly,” Trump said.
  • He also insisted a ceasefire announced from Turkey last week by Vice President Pence was holding despite “some skirmishes.” 

What to watch: The deal expires tomorrow night and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to resume his offensive if the so-called “safe zone” he’s demanded isn’t cleared of Kurdish fighters. Erdogan will be meeting tomorrow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • According to Brett McGurk, who resigned as Trump’s counter-ISIS envoy over a planned withdrawal last December, it’s now “in the hands of Putin” whether “an epic humanitarian catastrophe” unfolds in Syrian border cities like Kobane that had been held by Kurdish forces.

Behind the scenes: I asked McGurk today whether he’d ever heard Trump express interest in what would become of Syria after the ISIS caliphate was defeated.

  • “He talked about defeating the ISIS caliphate, he takes credit for it, but beyond that I don’t think he has much of a significant concern,” McGurk said, speaking at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
  • While the U.S. had several stated objectives in Syria that required long-term commitments — including remaining until Iran was out and the peace process finalized — McGurk said he never heard Trump himself vocalize them.
  • “In fact, he basically says, ‘the Russians and anybody else can do what they want,’” McGurk continued
  • Why it matters: “If the president isn’t fully bought into a policy, particularly when it comes to war and peace … when there’s a crisis he’s not going to really have anyone’s back.”

Trump did express interest in what would happen to Syria’s oil. McGurk said he explored the issue with Rex Tillerson, who was then secretary of state and previously ExxonMobil CEO.

Reality check: “I think [Tillerson’s] phrase was, ‘That’s not how oil works,’ McGurk said, noting that the oil legally belongs to the Syrian state.

  • “Maybe there are new lawyers, but it was just illegal for an American company to go and seize and exploit these assets.”

The bottom line: “We don’t want these resources to get in the hands of terrorists or others, but maybe Trump should have thought about this before he basically made a decision that unraveled the tapestry that had been working relatively well,” McGurk said.

[Axios]

Trump vows mass immigration arrests, removals of ‘millions of illegal aliens’ starting next week

President Trump said in a tweet Monday night that U.S. immigration agents are planning to make mass arrests starting “next week,” an apparent reference to a plan in preparation for months that aims to round up thousands of migrant parents and children in a blitz operation across major U.S. cities.

“Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” Trump wrote, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “They will be removed as fast as they come in.”

Large-scale ICE enforcement operations are typically kept secret to avoid tipping off targets. In 2018, Trump and other senior officials threatened the mayor of Oakland, Calif., with criminal prosecution for alerting city residents that immigration raids were in the works.

Trump and his senior immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, have been prodding Homeland Security officials to arrest and remove thousands of family members whose deportation orders were expedited by the Justice Department this year as part of a plan known as the “rocket docket.”

In April, acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen were ousted after they hesitated to go forward with the plan, expressing concerns about its preparation, effectiveness and the risk of public outrage from images of migrant children being taken into custody or separated from their families.

Vitiello was replaced at ICE by former FBI and Border Patrol official Mark Morgan, who had impressed the president with statements on cable television in favor of harsh immigration enforcement measures.

In his first two weeks on the job at ICE, Morgan has said publicly that he plans to beef up interior enforcement and go after families with deportation orders, insisting that the rulings must be carried out to uphold the integrity of the country’s legal system.

“Our next challenge is going to be interior enforcement,” Morgan told reporters June 4 in Washington. “We will be going after individuals who have gone through due process and who have received final orders of deportation.

“That will include families,” he said, adding that ICE agents will treat the parents and children they arrest “with compassion and humanity.”

U.S. officials with knowledge of the preparations have said in recent days that the operation was not imminent, and ICE officials said late Monday night that they were not aware that the president planned to divulge their enforcement plans on Twitter.

Executing a large-scale operation of the type under discussion requires hundreds — and perhaps thousands — of U.S. agents and supporting law enforcement personnel, as well as weeks of intelligence gathering and planning to verify addresses and locations of individuals targeted for arrest.

The president’s claim that ICE would be deporting “millions” also was at odds with the reality of the agency’s staffing and budgetary challenges. ICE arrests in the U.S. interior have been declining in recent months because so many agents are busy managing the record surge of migrant families across the southern border with Mexico.

The family arrest plan has been considered even more sensitive than a typical operation because children are involved, and Homeland Security officials retain significant concerns that families will be inadvertently separated by the operation, especially because parents in some households have deportation orders but their children — some of whom are U.S. citizens — might not. Should adults be arrested without their children because they are at school, day care, summer camp or a friend’s house, it is possible parents could be deported while their children are left behind.

Supporters of the plan, including Miller, Morgan and ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence, have argued forcefully that a dramatic and highly publicized operation of this type will send a message to families that are in defiance of deportation orders and could act as a deterrent.

According to Homeland Security officials, nearly all unauthorized migrants who came to the United States in 2017 in family groups remain present in the country. Some of those families are awaiting adjudication of asylum claims, but administration officials say a growing number are skipping out on court hearings while hoping to live and work in the United States as long as possible.

Publicizing a future law enforcement operation is unheard of at ICE. Trump administration officials blasted Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf last year for warning immigrants about an impending raid, saying she endangered agents’ safety.

“The Oakland mayor’s decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens — making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold,” then-ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan said at the time.

Homan later retired, but last week Trump said Homan would return to public service as his “border czar.” On Fox News, Homan later called that announcement “kind of premature” and said he had not decided whether to accept the job.

Schaaf responded late Monday to the president’s tweet teasing the looming ICE roundups.

“If you continue to threaten, target and terrorize families in my community . . . and if we receive credible information . . . you already know what our values are in Oakland — and we will unapologetically stand up for those values,” she wrote.

[Washington Post]

Trump: North Koreans love Kim

President Trump on Tuesday said the people of North Korea “love” the country’s leader Kim Jong Un despite previously condemning the regime’s human rights abuses.

“His country does love him,” Trump said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos following the historic summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore.

Trump said “you see the fervor” the North Koreans have for their leader.

“They’re gonna put it together, and I think they’re going to end up with a very strong country, and a country which has people  — that they’re so hard working, so industrious,” Trump said.

Stephanopoulos, however, pressed Trump’s reversal from his previous criticism over the oppressive regime that’s been accused of multiple human rights abuses.

“You say his people love him,” Stephanopoulos retorted. “Just a few months ago you accused him of starving his people.”

Trump said in January during the State of the Union address that North Korea has “more brutally oppressed its people than any regime on Earth.”

Stephanopoulos pressed the issue, saying Kim is a brutal dictator who runs a police state with labor camps and forced starvation.

“He’s assassinated members of his own family,” Stephanopoulos added. “How do you trust a killer like that?”

Trump said he can only judge Kim based on his interactions with him.

“I mean, this is what we have, and this is where we are, and I can only tell you from my experience, and I met him, I’ve spoken with him, and I’ve met him,” Trump said.

Trump also noted that things can change in the relationship, saying, “Will I come back to you in a year and you’ll be interviewing me and I’ll say, ‘Gee, I made a mistake?’ That’s always possible.”

Trump said Kim “wants to do the right thing” and that begins with denuclearization.

“I mean, this is what we have, and this is where we are, and I can only tell you from my experience, and I met him, I’ve spoken with him, and I’ve met him,” Trump said.

Trump also noted that things can change in the relationship, saying, “Will I come back to you in a year and you’ll be interviewing me and I’ll say, ‘Gee, I made a mistake?’ That’s always possible.”

Trump said Kim “wants to do the right thing” and that begins with denuclearization.

“Now, with all of that being said, I can’t talk about — it doesn’t matter,” Trump added.

Trump said at a press conference following the summit that human rights abuses happen “in a lot of places” when he was asked if he would reverse his previous criticism of Kim’s regime.

“I believe it’s a rough situation over there,” Trump told reporters. “It’s rough in a lot of places, by the way, not just there.”

The feds lost — yes, lost — 1,475 migrant children

The Trump administration recently announced a new, get-tough policy that will separate parents from their children if the family is caught crossing the border illegally.

It was a big news story. So big it overshadowed the fact that the federal government has lost — yes, lost — 1,475 migrant children in its custody.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress that within 48 hours of being taken into custody the children are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, which finds places for them to stay.

“They will be separated from their parent,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

“Just like we do in the United States every day,” Nielsen replied.

Except that the states, unlike the federal government, have systems in place to better screen the people who become guardians of the children and much better ways to keep track of those children.

And not lose them.

That is what happened to 1,475 minors swept up at the border and taken into custody by the federal government.

Gone.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement reported at the end of 2017 that of the 7,000-plus children placed with sponsored individuals, the agency did not know where 1,475 of them were.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said, “It’s just a system that has so many gaps, so many opportunities for these children to fall between the cracks, that we just don’t know what’s going on — how much trafficking or abuse or simply immigration law violations are occurring.”

A documentary from the PBS program Frontline said that the federal government has actually released some of the minors to human traffickers.

Imagine that.

And now we want to dramatically ramp up the number of children who are removed from their parents?

When pressed about safety concerns Secretary Nielsen said, “I just want to say, I couldn’t agree with your concerns more, period. We owe more to these children to protect them. So I’m saying I agree, we’ve taken steps and we will continue to strengthen what our partners do to protect these children.”

There are 1,475 reasons not to be reassured by the secretary’s promise.

If anything, it would have been better to have a policy in place, with protections, and safe places to stay, and safe people to stay with, and personnel on the government payroll to check-up on them before the administration’s new policy was implemented.

Secretary Nielsen said, “My decision has been that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted. If you are parent, or you’re a single person or if you happen to have a family, if you cross between the ports of entry we will refer you for prosecution. You have broken U.S. law.”

We all get that. And we all want a secure border. But we don’t want to trade in our humanity in the process.

As Sen. Portman told Frontline, “We’ve got these kids. They’re here. They’re living on our soil. And for us to just, you know, assume someone else is going to take care of them and throw them to the wolves, which is what HHS was doing, is flat-out wrong. I don’t care what you think about immigration policy, it’s wrong.”

He’s right.

[USA Today]

Trump awards Medal of Honor to Navy SEAL accused of war crimes

President Trump on Thursday awarded the Medal of Honor to a retired Navy SEAL who has been accused of committing war crimes — and leaving a man behind in enemy territory.

Former Master Chief Special Warefare Operator Britt Slabinski received the award during a public ceremony at the White House.

In 2002, he spearheaded a controversial SEAL Team Six mission in Afghanistan — which led to the deaths of seven Americans.

He was a Senior Chief Petty Officer at the time, in charge of leading a seven-member unit into eastern Afghanistan to set up an observation post on the mountain of Takur Ghar.

It was just six months after 9/11, and US forces had been waging war with Al Qaeda in the valley below as part of Operation Anaconda.

“Britt and his teammates were preparing to exit the aircraft on the mountain peak when their helicopter was struck by machine gun fire, and machine gun fire like they’ve never seen before,” explained Trump, who recounted the events on Thursday.

“Not a good feeling,” he said.

As the chopper “lurched away from the assault,” one of the SEAL Team Six members — later identified as Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts — got tossed from the aircraft but was thought to have survived.

“At this point, Britt received information suggesting [Roberts] was probably still alive,” Trump said. “The team faced a choice: to wait for reinforcements and pretty much safety, or to return immediately to the enemy stronghold in the hope of saving Neil’s life.”

Despite being “out-manned, out-gunned and fighting uphill on a steep, icy mountain,” Trump said Slabinski and his squad made the choice to turn back.

“For them, it was an easy one,” the president added. “They went back to that mountain.”

While Trump hailed Slabinski for his actions, many in the military community feel that he made several bad decisions that day in 2002, which wound up costing the lives of seven Americans, including Roberts.

First, he chose to take a much more dangerous route than the one they had planned after experiencing maintenance delays and pressure from senior officers. Slabinski told the New York Times in 2016 that when they landed on Takur Ghar, Qaeda forces were already waiting.

Next, he reportedly made the decision to land his team directly on the observation post — rather than hiking up to it from a safer position. Military officials later determined that this was a major error, which “violated a basic tenet of reconnaissance.”

Slabinski then chose to turn back after losing Roberts — recruiting Air Force Technical Sgt. John Chapman in the process, according to accounts.

Unbeknownst to him, Roberts had already been captured by enemy fighters and killed.

“Britt continued to engage the enemy, repeatedly exposing himself to horrendous fire,” Trump said Thursday, calling the assault the “Battle of Roberts Ridge.”

“When they could go no further, Britt tended to the wounded and coordinated their escape until his team was finally evacuated,” the president added.

Members of the Army’s Delta Force and 75th Ranger Regiment teams, which were involved in the battle, believe Slabinski left Chapman behind that day after retreating with the rest of his unit.

Footage obtained by the Times appears to show the airman battling Qaeda forces on the mountain for another hour — even resorting to hand-to-hand combat at one point.

Chapman wound up dying in an attempt to protect arriving reinforcements from gunfire, according to the Times.

He will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, though it’s unclear when.

Slabinski has repeatedly denied leaving him on Takur Ghar that day, while also defending the rest of his actions.

“I can tell you, we left no one behind. No one,” he told Fox News, just three days before receiving the Medal of Honor.

“What I saw, what I experienced, I know that clearly that we didn’t leave anyone behind up there,” Slabinski said. “I wasn’t more than 20 to 30 feet away from where John was and that was my experience. But what I want people to focus on is that it’s called Roberts Ridge now because we lost six other people up there. A total of seven.”

Asked if he thought Chapman was still alive when they retreated, Slabinski replied: “That wasn’t what I experienced. It wasn’t what I saw.”

In addition to the 2002 incident, Slabinski has been accused of multiple war crimes. They include illegally ordering the executions of male Afghans and mutilating the bodies of fallen enemy fighters.

“[Slabinski] certainly has been accused of some very bad things,” retired SEAL officer Dick Couch told Politico.

He pointed out, however, how the award is based on “one specific action” — and not the recipient’s character.

“I’ve read excerpts of what he did in that battle and it certainly seems Medal of Honor-worthy,” Couch said.

Dana White, a spokesperson for Defense Secretary James Mattis, told Politico that Mattis “was well aware of the news reporting around Master Chief Slabinski” and recommended him for the Medal of Honor anyway.

[New York Post]

John Kelly defended separating children from their families at the border as a deterrent

Last week, White House Chief of staff John Kelly went on National Public Radio to make it clear that despite repeated bald-faced statements to the contrary, the Trump administration does not view immigrants as dangerous criminals. Regrettably, Kelly didn’t stop there. A second later, he defended the practice of separating children from their families at the border as a deterrent to illegal immigration. He then explained that the children torn from their mothers and fathers would be handled by “foster care or whatever,” a flippant phrase that betrayed the dismissiveness of not only Kelly but Jeff Sessions and the architects of the Justice Department program to the suffering of children.

The phrase was enough of a rhetorical roadblock that it prompted many to stop and further inspect the logic of the Justice Department program, which is being touted as a humane deterrent, which is an oxymoron. The program is designed to deter border crossings by presenting a profound threat to parents. It is fully intended to terrify. If it weren’t, it would not make sense as a program. The idea then that Americans should not see the separation as an act of retribution perpetrated against families, is ludicrous. For hardliners, the suffering of Guatemalan children might be an appropriate price for a secure border, but there’s little reason to think most Americans are sympathetic to that perspective. With the Pew Research Center uncovering a net outflow of migrants — more are leaving than coming in — America could afford a more humane approach.

Instead, the word of the day is “tough.” That’s John Kelly’s macho go-to. “It could be a tough deterrent — would be a tough deterrent,” he told NPR.

At one point in his interview Kelly, who is a father, evinced sympathy for migrants and acknowledged that they were heading to America for understandable reasons. He did not dive into the specifics of the violence families flee or the specific threats to children that exist in places like El Salvador, but he gestured in the direction of empathy. He publically faced the truth that these people are willingly staring down very long odds and will keep coming.

So, again, what is a “tough deterrent” but the promise of future violence, an assurance that America will not be safer for your children than wherever you started walking.

[Yahoo]

Trump: Nominee For CIA Director is Taking Fire Because She Was ‘Too Tough on Terrorists’

President Donald Trump defended Gina Haspel — his nominee for CIA director who has faced headwinds in her nomination process because of her ties to the CIA’s torture program — on Twitter Monday morning.

Haspel, who has been at the CIA for more than three decades, faces a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday that’s shaping up to be a tough ride for the career agent. Haspel ran a “black site” in Thailand, at a time when the U.S. enhanced interrogation program included waterboarding and other torture practices for terror suspects.

The Washington Post reported that on Friday, Haspel sought to withdraw her nomination for CIA director, fearing she would face the same fate — a blow to her reputation — that former VA secretary nominee Ronny Jackson did.

“My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists,” Trump tweeted, before adding a splash of identity politics: “Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror.”

“Win Gina!” he added.

Trump’s apparent defense of torture came shortly after his favorite morning show Fox & Friends covered Haspel’s struggles in her nomination process.

[Mediaite]

Reality

Trump’s proposed reliance on tactics used by Bond villains as a practical response to the terrorist acts of the Islamic State should be leaving people feeling aghast and concerned.

Unlike fictional TV shows, like 24 where Jack Bauer runs around and tortures his way to the bad guy or movies like Zero Dark Thirty who include torture scenes that never happened which lead to the capture of Osama Bin Laden, reality is quite different.

Waterboarding, and other forms of torture, is considered a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions and is not reliable for obtaining truthful, useful intelligence.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that “the CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.” There was no proof, according to the 6,700 page report, that information obtained through waterboarding prevented any attacks or saved any lives, or that information obtained from the detainees was not or could not have been obtained through conventional interrogation methods.”

In-fact, we’ve know for centuries that torture is not effective. Here is Napoleon’s own words on the subject:

“It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know.”

Instead, rapport-building techniques are 14 times more effective in extracting information than torture and has the upside of not being unethical.

Trump asked CIA official why drone strike didn’t also kill target’s family

President Trump reportedly asked an official at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) why they didn’t kill a terrorist target’s family during a drone strike.

The Washington Post reported Thursday after watching a recorded video of a Syrian drone strike where officials waited until the target was outside of his family’s home, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?”

The agency’s head of drone operations explained to an “unimpressed” Trump there are techniques to limit the number of civilian casualties.

Trump called for the CIA to start arming its drone in Syria and reportedly asked for it to be started in days.

[The Hill]

Reality

All four Geneva Conventions from 1949 contain “Common Article 3,” which applies to “armed conflict not of an international character.” What does that mean? The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 2006 case Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, ruled that “armed conflict not of an international character” means a war that is not fought against a sovereign state. (A sovereign state simply means a country with a recognized government.) Since groups like ISIS are not considered sovereign states, that means that Common Article 3 applies to the current war on terrorism.

According to Common Article 3, people who are taking no active part in the hostilities “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely… To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever … violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.”

Experts said this language would make Trump’s approach a violation of the Geneva Conventions, assuming that the family members were not taking part in terrorist activities.

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