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When he was a National Guard soldier serving in Afghanistan, Derrick Miller loomed over a civilian who was being interrogated and fired a bullet into the man's head. Then Miller turned to another soldier and said, "I shot him. He was a liar."
Miller was sent to prison eight years ago for that premeditated murder after a prosecutor urged a military court to make "a statement about how soldiers should behave."
President Donald Trump will also make a statement about how soldiers should behave — one utterly misguided and corrosive to military order and good discipline — should he follow through on tentative plans reported by The New York Times to pardon, on or around Memorial Day, troops accused or convicted of war crimes.
"Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility," a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, declared on Twitter.
Miller, since released on parole, hopes to be among those pardoned. Others include:
►Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL accused by platoon members of wanton violence, including stabbing to death a teenage boy, and gunning down a girl and an old man from a sniper's nest. Gallagher is said to have boasted about his kills and labeled as traitors those who reported his alleged crimes. In a March tweet, Trump moved him to less restrictive confinement in "honor of his past service to our country."
►Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a Green Beret charged with summarily executing a man suspected of being a Taliban bomb-maker who had been ordered released after an interrogation. Golsteyn admitted the crime only after undergoing a polygraph while trying to join the CIA. Trump called him a "U.S. military hero" in a tweet last year.
►Former Blackwater contractor Nicholas Slatten, convicted of instigating the slaughter of 14 Iraqi civilians and the wounding of 17 with a cadre of Blackwater gunmen at a Baghdad intersection. Trial evidence revealed that Slatten viewed Iraqis as "animals."
Holding these men accountable for wartime barbarities has somehow been misconstrued by elements of Trump's base as justice gone awry. Trump, who trafficks in a culture of pseudo toughness that endorses torture or the killing of terrorist families, has caught their drift.
Pardoning a convicted war criminal is not out of character for Trump. Earlier this month, he pardoned a former Army first lieutenant serving time for "unpremeditated murder in a combat zone." He had been convicted of ordering an Iraqi prisoner to strip naked before shooting the man to death.
War by its nature is brutally dehumanizing. The U.S. military copes by working to instill order and discipline, and it has been largely successful in a human history of armies that have ruthlessly slaughtered civilians and defeated combatants alike.
"Although military necessity justifies certain actions necessary to defeat the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible," reads the Defense Department's Law of War Manual, "military necessity cannot justify actions ... such as cruelty or wanton violence."
Trump would turn this military maxim on its head if he chooses to issue these pardons, with the added blasphemy of doing it on a holiday honoring all that Americans cherish about the sacrifices of those in uniform.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump pardoning war criminals on Memorial Day would be desecrating a holiday