President Donald Trump has indicated that he is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes, including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder, and desecration of a corpse, according to two US officials. The officials said that the Trump administration had made expedited requests this week for paperwork needed to pardon the troops on or around Memorial Day. One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who is scheduled to stand trial in the coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said they had not seen a complete list, and did not know if other service members were included in the request for pardon paperwork.
The White House sent requests on May 17 to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, which alerted the military branches, according to one senior military official. Pardon files include background information and details on criminal charges, and in many cases include letters describing how the person in question has made amends. The official said while assembling pardon files typically takes months, the Justice Department stressed that all data would have to be complete before Memorial Day weekend because President Donald Trump planned to pardon the men then.
President Donald Trump has often bypassed traditional channels in granting pardons and wielded his power freely, sometimes in politically charged cases that resonate with him, such as the conviction of the former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. Earlier this month, Trump pardoned former Army First Lieutenant Michael Behenna, who had been convicted of killing an Iraqi civilian during an interrogation in 2008. While the requests for pardon files are a strong sign of the President’s plans, Trump has been known to change his mind and it is not clear what the impetus was for the requests. But most of the troops who are positioned for a pardon have been championed by conservative lawmakers and media organizations, such as Fox News, which have portrayed them as being unfairly punished for trying to do their job. Many have pushed for Trump to intervene. The White House declined to comment. Pardoning several accused and convicted war criminals at once, including some who have not yet gone to trial, has not been done in recent history, legal experts said. Some worried that it could erode the legitimacy of military law and undercut good order and discipline in the ranks.