U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a former marine most famous for vaping in Congress and being charged with wildly misusing campaign funds, went on Fox News this morning to push the surreal argument that the government is restricting U.S. troops’ ability to wage war by prosecuting them for extrajudicial killings and forcing them to practice “compassionate combat.”
If all of that sounds confusing, you’re right! War is fundamentally about killing people, but modern nations typically put some form of restrictions on how and when that can happen, generally known as “rules of engagement.” But to Hunter, rules are for babies.
“What I think we have here is what the U.S. government would call ‘compassionate combat,’” Hunter said on Fox & Friends. “The U.S. government over the last five years under President Bush, and crystalized under President Obama, has wanted us to kill the bad guys, but in the right way. Meaning compassionate and only under the rules of engagement that they say to you.”
What makes Hunter’s argument truly surreal here is who he’s defending: The Republican specifically calls out several U.S. service members who are under investigation or on trial for war crimes or murder. Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, for instance, is accused of taking a captured Afghan insurgent off the base he was being held at, executing him, and then burning his body in a trash pit to hide the evidence.
Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, another fighter Hunter specifically names, is currently on trial for a litany of war crimes. Per the Navy Times:
Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward “Eddie” Gallagher not only stabbed to death a teenage wounded Islamic State prisoner of war during a 2017 deployment to Iraq, according to an officer in his chain of command, but the SEAL also called in “false target coordinates to engage a mosque,” tried to push his platoon into pointless and potentially catastrophic firefights with insurgents and became so mentally unstable that he should’ve been relieved from duty but wasn’t.
These are the dudes Hunter is defending! Gallagher and Golsteyn’s cases have become hot-button issues among a certain blood-thirsty sect of conservative troop-respecters. Golsteyn and Gallagher are both represented by the same lawyer, Phillip Stackhouse, and apparently by Hunter in Congress and the court of public opinion driven by Fox News. Per the Army Times, Hunter has written to the Army secretary in support of Golsteyn, calling the investigation into him “retaliatory and vindictive,” and saying he was a “distinguished and well regarded Green Beret.” The Army Times notes Golsteyn received a silver star for previous actions in combat; this does not make him immune from prosecution for murdering a prisoner.
In combat, the rules of engagement do change based on the tactical and political objectives on the ground, but they sure as hell never get to the point of green-lighting summary execution. The U.S. military has still managed to kill thousands of civilians across the world in recent years even while following various rules, to say nothing of what Hunter is advocating for here—tossing all that out the window in the name of “killing bad guys.”
Next thing we know Hunter will be ranting about “compassionate campaign finance” laws ruining his ability to (allegedly) embezzle money.