President Trump acknowledged Friday that his consideration of pardons for U.S. service members accused or convicted of war crimes is “a little bit controversial” and suggested he would not be making decisions before Memorial Day.
The New York Times reported last week that Trump could issue pardons in some cases around Memorial Day, a holiday meant to remember the United States’ war dead.
Speaking to reporters as he prepared to leave the White House en route to Japan, Trump said that he was “looking at a lot of different pardons for a lot of different people.”
“Some of these soldiers are people that have fought hard, long,” Trump said. “You know, we teach them how to be great fighters, and then when they fight, sometimes they get treated very unfairly.
“So we’re going to take a look at it,” he continued. “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.”
He added that in cases of those members who’ve yet to stand trial, “it’s very possible that I’ll let the trials go on, and I’ll make my decision after the trial.”
In a tweet last year, Trump said that he would review the case of Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, who faces a murder charge in the death of a suspected Taliban bomb maker.
Trump also directed the Navy to remove Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher from a military brig as he faces a murder charge in the death of an Islamic State detainee. Gallagher is now restricted to his base.
The Times reported that other cases believed to be under review include that of a former Blackwater security contractor recently found guilty in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis; and that of a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on the corpses of dead Taliban fighters.
Reports that Trump was considering issuing the pardons on Memorial Day has prompted considerable criticism, including a USA Today editorial that said it would be “blasphemy” to do so on “a holiday honoring all that Americans cherish about the sacrifices of those in uniform.”
Several of the Democrats seeking to displace Trump in next year’s elections have also spoken out about his reported deliberations, including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Appearing at a Washington Post Live event on Thursday, Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, said he thinks it is “disgusting” that Trump is considering using his executive power to issue pardons to war criminals.
Buttigieg argued that doing so would undermine the credibility of the U.S. military justice system. “If the president blows a hole in that, he is blowing a hole in the military, and he is putting troops’ lives at risk,” he said.
Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.