Donald Trump indicated Friday that he may take some extra time to consider his perplexing plan to pardon accused war criminals for Memorial Day.
The idea — heavily touted by Fox News — was to pardon certain servicemen either convicted or charged with war crimes. Trump told reporters outside the White House that the idea has turned out to be a “little bit controversial.”
Former military officials have spoken out strongly against the plan, and veterans tweeted numerous angry comments, saying that pardoning war criminals denigrates service by members of the military who have acted with honor.
“Some of these soldiers are people that have fought hard, long,” Trump told reporters, referring to accused war criminals, as he left for a trip to Japan. “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,” he added. “I haven’t done anything yet. I haven’t made any decisions. There’s two or three of them right now. It’s a little bit controversial.”
As for members of the military who haven’t yet been tried on war crime charges, he said it’s “very possible that I’ll let the trials go on, and I’ll make my decision after the trial.”
One of the men Trump is considering pardoning is Navy SEAL Edward “Eddie” Gallagher, who is charged with firing on civilians and fatally stabbing a captured, unarmed teenage ISIS fighter in Iraq in 2017. Seven members of Gallagher’s team reported his behavior, and he allegedly threatened them for speaking out. His trial is scheduled to begin Monday at the Naval base in San Diego, and his fellow SEALs are scheduled to testify against him, according to the Navy Times.
Others who may be up for a pardon include a former Blackwater security contractor who was found guilty of shooting dozens of unarmed Iraqis, and Maj. Mathew Golsteynan, an Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010.
Several lawmakers have harshly criticized Trump’s pardon plan. And top former military officials have warned that pardons could encourage lawless behavior and sabotage order and command vital to protecting the safety of civilians and U.S. service members.
“Absent evidence of innocence or injustice, the wholesale pardon of U.S. 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,” retired U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey tweeted. Dempsey served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Barack Obama.
Retired Lt. General Lawrence Nicholson called Trump’s possible pardons “disturbing” in an opinion piece in The New York Times on Friday.
“It would send the wrong signal to United States troops under his command, undercut the country’s well-established military justice system and call into question America’s longstanding commitment to human rights and the rule of law,” noted Nicholson, who wrote the essay with former State Department official J. Kael Weston.
“Horrific if not illegal conduct would be condoned at the highest level, setting a new and very dark precedent and detracting attention from the honorable actions of millions of United States service members.”
Earlier this month, Trump issued a pardon for former Army First Lt. Michael Behenna, who drove an Iraqi prisoner into the desert in 2008, stripped him and fatally shot him. Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder and was already serving a reduced sentence when the president pardoned him.