President Carter issued a pardon yesterday to Vietnam-era draft dodgers who did not commit violent acts.
The White House released no number of those eligible, saying "absolutely no good estimate" was available. Justic Department figures indicate about 13,000 known draft evaders benefit. So do an unknown number who never registered for the draft.
Carter excluded deserters and men with less than honorable discharges from his pardon, but ordered a Defense Department study to examine upgrading discharges.
The first proclamation and first executive order on the first full day of the new administration fulfilled a Carter campaign promise to pardon those who broke Selective Service laws.
Carter said during the campaign that a pardon was needed "to heal our country after the Vietnam war." Disagreements remained he said, "but we can now agree to respect those differences and to forget them."
The old disagreements flared yesterday in reaction to Carter's pardon.
The American Legion said it was not healing, but divisive. Amnesty advocates expressed disappointment that Carter did not broaden his pardon to include deserters and men with bad discharges.
Press secretary Jody Powell predicted his range of opposition in announcing the pardon, which was done without a statement from Carter. Powell said the President expected his pardon would anger or disappoint more than half of all Americans.
Pardons that Powell said were effective with the signing of the order at 9:30 a.m. yesterday were given to:
"All persons who may have committed any offense between Aug. 4, 1964, and March 28, 1973, in violation of the Military Selective Service Act or any rule or regulation promulgated thereunder."
All persons convicted of any Selective Service violation committed during the same period. These are given full political, civil and other rights.
All draft offenders who have taken citizenship in another country and therefore could have been excluded from returning to the United States. They may now come back as visitors and if they choosed, apply for U.S. citizenship "under the same terms and conditions as any other alien."
All draft offenders who participated in President Ford's clemency program. Any conditional clemency any person received under that program is now to be made a full pardon.
Excluded from Carter's pardon are all those whose violation of the law involved force or violence and any employees of the Military Selective Service who may have broken its laws.
Each exclusion is "a handful" of people in both relative and absolute terms, Powell said.
The Carter pardon also orders the Attorney General to drop all investigations pending against draft law violators and not to initiate new investigations, with the same two categories excluded.
Powell made it clear that the pardon, also covers any persons who did not register for the draft during the years covered. Amnesty groups estimate that hundreds of thousands of young men simple never registered in the later years of the war.
The press secretary acknowledged that this group had faced little danger of prosecution since "if they didn't register, it's likely we wouldn't know about them."
No immediate relief was offered to deserters on persons with less-than honorable discharges.
"Carter will act immediately to initiate a study involving the military looking toward a possible upgrading by category or an expanded and accelerated review process," Powell said.
He was vague about the exact make-up of the study group and on how long the study would take. The Pentagon has under way a review of the discharges it issued.
Powell said, however, that men with the two worst categories of discharges, dishonorable and bad conduct, will not be eligible for any upgrading.
In addition, Powell said, it had not been decided whether to consider up-grading general discharges. A general discharge is the first step down from an honorable discharge and is considered by the military to be a lesser form of honorable discharge.
Veterans have found, according to spokesmen for veterans groups, that many employers shy away from hiring men with general discharge for smoking marijuana.
The pardon was announced without any indication of the numbers of people affected. Powell did not supply numbers despite reporters' requests.
According to Justice Department figures, the pardon would cover about 2,600 draft dodgers still under indictment, about 9,000 who were convicted or pleaded guilty and who could have their records erased and about 1,200 who were under investigation.
A compilation by Duane Shank of the National Interreligious Board for Conscientious Objectors put the number who could benefit at 23,849. He included those who had been indicted or won acquittal but needed to have the records of charges against them expunged. It was not clear yesterday whether Carter's pardon would erase such records.
Shank also got a higher number because he and other amnesty advocates used the period 1961 to the fall of Saigon in the spring of 1975 as the Vietnam era.
The Rev. Barry Lynn of the United Church of Christ noted tht the era covered by Carter's pardon runs from the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which gave President Johnson a free hand to introduce American forces into the war, to just after the signing of the Paris peace accords.
"The Congress might not have known there was a war before Tonkin," Lynn said, "but these dates exclude some of the earliest, most sincere objectors." Lynn is a leading advocated of toaal amnesty.
There are about 7,500 Americans who took foreign citizenship during the longer Vietnam period Shank considered, according to his totals. Those who evaded the draft between Aug. 4, 1964, and March 28, 1973, can now return on their foreign passports and apply for U.S. citizenship if they choose.
The number of non-registrants is not known. Shank calculated it at over 1 million. A recent study for Notre Dame University by Lawrence Baskir and William Strauss put it at 250,000.
During the presidential campaign, as Powell noted, the Republicans sought to make an issue of Carter's pardon promise.
After the election, the pressure became more intense on David Berg of the transition staff and Carter's close adviser Charles Kirbo as they gathered pardon options for Carter.
Powell said yesterday that every group or individual who requested a meeting was listened to, ranging from those who urged Carter to do nothing to one who insisted that a pardon be accompanied by $4 billion in aid to North Vietnam.
Powell characterized the course chosen as a "moderate" one.
The distinction Carter made was to pardon those who never entered the military, but to consider the violation of the military oath throught desertion as more serious.
"This document doesn't apply to anyone who was inducted, who took an oath," Powell said.
According to Pentagon figures, there are 4,500 deserters at large. Shank and other amnesty advocates believe the number is higher.
Powell said there are about 200,000 with bad discharges, of whom about 30,000 with the worst papers will not be eligible for review under the study Carter ordered.
Using the longer time frame for the Vietnam era and including general discharges as bad papers, the amnesty groups believe the total needing relief is close to 800,000.
Those who have worked for amnesty have consistently made the argument that draft evaders as a group are the best-educated, most affluent and most heavily white of the violators.
Deserters and men given bad discharges tended to be poorer and more heavily black - people who didn't think of breaking a law or opposing the war until they saw the Army and the war themselves.
Pro-amnesty groups are planning a conference of deserters, draft dodgers and amnesty workers in Toronto Jan. 29-30 to decide on a response to the Carter pardon and to announce what future efforts they will make on behalf of those to whom Carter yesterday did not say, "Come back home."