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Trump’s pardon of convicted war criminals recalls events of March 2012. We in the office of the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan were trying to restart talks with Taliban that had been near conclusion, but that had paused due to concerns of President Karzai.
As I was on my way to Dubai, on March 11, 2012, US Army Sgt. Robert Bales murdered 16 Afghan civilians in their beds in Panjwai, Kandahar. As part of the SRAP effort, I reserved a room in the business center of a Dubai hotel for a meeting with a former senior Taliban official.
This official was from the district where the massacre had occured, as were many Taliban leaders. I opened our discussion by apologizing for the crime and said that the accused had been arrested and would be tried for murder.
After a pause, my interlocutor, who felt he did not speak English well, said, “The problem is not the crime. There will always be crime. The problem is justice.”
I could promise him only an effort to obtain justice according to our standards, which did not include the death penalty that Afghan thought Bales deserved. Bales was sentenced by a military court to life in prison without parole, and I can still look my interlocutor in the eye.
On March 15, the Taliban announced they were suspending the peace talks, though they did not attribute this to Bales’ crime. When the talks resumed under @US4AfghanPeace the main subject was the withdrawal of US troops.
One difficult issue was the US desire to retain a counter-terrorist force to cooperate with a future Afghan government that might include the Taliban. How do you negotiate the long-term presence of fighters whose commander-in-chief explicitly authorizes them to commit war crimes?
The consequences of this abuse of the pardon power will become evident over time and in many dimensions. I urge the House of Representatives to include this in the Articles of Impeachment of President Donald Trump.
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