President Donald Trump said he is considering pardoning U.S. military members accused or convicted of war crimes despite warnings from former officials and Democrats that doing so would undercut military law and imperil troops overseas.
Trump told reporters on Friday in Washington, when asked if he’s considering war crimes pardons, that he’s monitoring several cases, and may wait until after legal proceedings to make a decision.
“We’re looking at a lot of different pardons for a lot of different people,” Trump said before he left for Japan. “Some of these soldiers are people that have fought hard and long.”
He added: “We teach them how to be great fighters, and then when they fight, sometimes they get really treated very unfairly, so we’re going to take a look at it.”
Trump didn’t identify specific cases. Conservative lawmakers and commentators have championed some military members, including Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, as potential pardon recipients. Gallagher, a Navy SEAL, is awaiting military trial over multiple war crimes charges, including that he killed a teenage combatant for Islamic State in 2017.
The potential pardons were reported earlier by the New York Times.
Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Barack Obama, warned in a May 21 tweet: “Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US service members accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us. #Leadership”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, called Trump’s consideration of pardons “very troubling.”
“If he follows through, President Trump would undermine American treaty obligations and our military justice system, damage relations with foreign partners and give our enemies one more propaganda tool,” Feinstein said in a statement.
While speaking Friday, Trump acknowledged the issue is “a little bit controversial” and said he had not made any decision on “two or three” cases being examined right now. “It’s very possible that I’ll let the trials go on and I’ll make my decision after the trial,” Trump said.
On May 6, Trump pardoned former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, who had been sentenced by a military court to 25 years in prison for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. Trump cited concern about how the court weighed Behenna’s claim of self-defense. That pardon was criticized for undermining military justice systems.
“This pardon is a presidential endorsement of a murder that violated the military’s own code of justice,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a written statement about the Behenna pardon. “Trump, as Commander-in-Chief, and top military leaders should prevent war crimes, not endorse or excuse them.”
There are ties between Trump and the legal team for Gallagher, the Navy SEAL. Tim Parlatore, a lawyer for Gallagher, said former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who has represented Trump, is also representing Gallagher.
Mukasey left Greenberg Traurig in January to launch his own law firm, Mukasey Frenchman & Sklaroff. That firm began representing Trump as early as February, court filings show. Mukasey joined Trump’s team to battle a New York state lawsuit targeting the Donald J. Trump Foundation, and since then has represented the president and his namesake company in litigation involving efforts to pry open his tax, banking and financial records.
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