As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump made little effort to hide his affinity for war crimes. As regular readers may recall, the Republican dismissed the Geneva Conventions as “out of date,” vowed to “take out” terrorists’ families, and when asked whether the United States would "chop off heads" of detainees under his administration's approach, he wouldn't answer directly.
Trump also argued during the GOP primaries that he wanted to torture suspected terrorists even "if it doesn't work" in producing valuable intelligence, because "they deserve it anyway.” He went on to promise to restore waterboarding practices -- Trump called it a “minor form” of torture -- he also vowed to bring back "a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding."
For reasons I've never fully understood, it was around this time that some political observers concluded that Trump was the presidential candidate who could be trusted to show careful restraint on national security issues.
Once in office, Trump acted in support of accused war criminals, intervening in their cases in defiance of military leaders' wishes, and dismissing charges against Americans accused of deadly brutality. It led The Atlantic's Adam Serwer in November to describe the president as "a war-crimes enthusiast."
Over the weekend, Trump abandoned all subtlety on the matter.
President Donald Trump on Saturday warned Iran that if it retaliates for the killing of one of its top leaders, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, it will face U.S. attacks on 52 targets, a number he said was symbolic.
The president tweeted that the number of targets matched the number of hostages held by Iran in 1979, when 52 American diplomats and citizens were held for 444 days.
As the Associated Press reported soon after, "Targeting cultural sites is a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural sites."
Asked about this yesterday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, "We'll behave lawfully. We'll behave inside the system." The cabinet secretary added, "The American people should know that every target that we strike will be a lawful target."
By late yesterday, however, Trump was rejecting Pompeo's line and arguing largely the opposite.