According to a report in the New York Times, President Trump’s Justice Department filed expedited requests for information on Friday regarding the war crimes cases of accused servicemen, signaling he is considering pardoning them on or before Memorial Day.
One of the service members Trump is looking to pardon is Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who is accused of shooting and killing an unarmed Muslim girl and elderly man from a sniper position and unloading machine gun fire “indiscriminately” into neighborhoods, according to the Times. He also allegedly killed a 15-year-old Islamic State fighter with a knife, then posed for a photo with the fighter’s dead corpse and bragged about it in text messages.
Despite repeated complaints from other members of his platoon, nothing was done to address Gallagher’s actions until the platoon brought it to the attention of authorities outside of the SEALs. Gallagher was court-martialed, arrested and charged with more than 12 counts including premeditated murder, attempted murder and obstruction of justice. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
According to legal experts, there is no precedent for a president pardoning numerous soldiers accused and convicted of war crimes at the same time. As retired military judge Gary Solis told the Times, “These are all extremely complicated cases that have gone through a careful system of consideration. A freewheeling pardon undermines that whole system. It raises the prospect in the minds of the troops that says, ‘Whatever we do, if we can get the folks back home behind us, maybe we can get let off.’”
Trump is also considering pardoning Green Beret Major Matthew Golsteyn, who has been court-martialed for killing an unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn admitted to killing the man in a lie-detector test administered by the CIA in 2011 and said he had been told the man was a bomb-maker. But it wasn’t until Golsteyn admitted killing the man during a 2016 interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier that an investigation was opened.
The administration also requested information on the case of Marine Corps snipers accused of urinating on the bodies of slain Taliban soldiers. And, of course, a former Blackwater contractor recently found guilty of killing dozens of unarmed Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007. (Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s brother, Eric Prince, owned Blackwater at the time the incident occurred.)
Trump’s meddling in the military justice system to gain points with military-supporting voters is yet another example of his autocratic tendencies and disrespect for the rule of law. While he has only just requested information and has not yet pardoned these soldiers, the mere fact it’s being considered is a terrifying message to our military forces and contractors that bad actors among them can commit all kinds of atrocities and Trump will have their back.