Washington, D.C.—In response to President Trump’s pardoning of Michael Behenna, the former Army lieutenant convicted of killing an Iraqi prisoner in his custody, Human Rights First’s President and CEO Michael Breen issued the following statement:
President Trump’s pardon of a servicemember convicted of murder by the U.S. military undermines the morale of our armed forces, erodes our allies’ trust of the armed services overseas and—by showing that we won’t hold our forces to the same standards we demand of others—places our servicemembers in greater danger in combat zones and beyond.
It is the job of members of the military to go to war. We expect these men and women to operate in extreme environments, and to behave lawfully and with honor when they do. Without rules of conduct, the military is simply an armed mob.
Previous generations of veterans tragically had their honorable service disparaged because the crimes of a few prompted Americans to question not just the wisdom of pursuing conflicts, but the integrity of those engaged in the fight. Yesterday’s pardon should justifiably anger many of the thousands and thousands of those who served honorably, even in the most trying of circumstances.
It is imperative that current and future generations of military and foreign policy leaders receive a clear message that war crimes and torture are illegal, immoral, and counterproductive. They should likewise believe that those who violate laws will be held accountable. When the President of the United States sends the opposite message, and uses pardon power to assert that some people have no rights at all, it only becomes more important that leaders, military and civilian, model a different standard of behavior, and that our entertainment industry and other cultural innovators tell a different story of who we as Americans aspire to be.
Breen, who was a U.S. Army officer, led soldiers in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, including by serving for a year as a platoon leader in the Pech and Korengal Valleys with the 173rd Airborne.