Pos­si­ble par­dons stir con­tro­versy

Trump con­sid­ers war crimes cases

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By De­bra J. Saun­ders Re­view-journal White House Cor­re­spon­dent

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump con­firmed Fri­day that he is con­sid­er­ing par­dons for two or three ser­vice­men ac­cused of or con­victed of war crimes, a pos­si­bil­ity that has set off a wave of crit­i­cism.

“We’re look­ing at a lot of dif­fer­ent par­dons for a lot of dif­fer­ent people,” Trump said as he was de­part­ing for a state visit to Ja­pan. “Some of th­ese sol­diers are people that have fought hard, long. You know, 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. 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. It’s very pos­si­ble that I’ll let the tri­als go on and I’ll make my de­ci­sion af­ter the trial.”

The New York Times re­ported ear­lier that ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials had asked for ex­pe­dited re­quests about sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als who have been con­victed of or charged with war crimes.

The White House list re­port­edly in­cluded Ed­ward Gal­lagher, a Navy SEAL charged with mur­der and shoot­ing un­armed civil­ians; Matthew L. Gol­steyn, who was charged with killing an un­armed Afghan in 2010; and former Black­wa­ter con­trac­tor Ni­cholas A. Slat­ten, who was con­victed of killing 17 Iraqis.

The Times re­port said Trump could is­sue the par­dons around Me­mo­rial Day.

Since the re­port was pub­lished, some vet­er­ans have spo­ken out against the idea.

“When Trump cham­pi­ons war crim­i­nals as brave pa­tri­ots who are sim­ply vic­tims of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, he seems to push for a cli­mate that con­dones un­eth­i­cal and crim­i­nal be­hav­ior. He ap­pears to write off war crimes as the cost of do­ing busi­ness,” Iraq War vet­eran Wait­man Wade Be­orn wrote in The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, a re­tired chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also warned against the par­dons in a tweet: “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. #Lead­er­ship.”

Pete But­tigieg — the South Bend, In­di­ana, mayor run­ning in the 2020 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial pri­mary who served a six-month stint in Afghanista­n

as a Navy re­servist — also voiced out­rage at the prospect.

“Amer­i­can mil­i­tary law is abun­dantly clear on what you do and do not do in uni­form,” he said at a Wash­ing­ton Post fo­rum. “And if you do some­thing wrong in uni­form, you will be pros­e­cuted and you will be held ac­count­able. If the pres­i­dent blows a hole in that, he is blow­ing a hole in the in­tegrity of the mil­i­tary and he is putting troops’ lives at risk.”

Mar­garet Love, who served as the Depart­ment of Justice par­don at­tor­ney when Wil­liam Barr was at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, told the Re­view-journal that the ad­min­is­tra­tion in­quiries will force the DOJ to take a stand on whether Trump should grant clemency in each of the cases. Trump has re­lied on his gut in­stincts when de­cid­ing whether to is­sue par­dons or com­mu­ta­tions up un­til now.

Love also wrote in the le­gal blog “Law­fare” that she is op­ti­mistic Barr will ad­vise Trump “to for­bear in th­ese war crimes cases at least un­til

the mil­i­tary justice sys­tem has run its course.”

Ear­lier this month, Trump ended a 10-month pause on his use of the par­don power when he granted a full par­don to former Army 1st Lt. Michael Be­henna, who had been con­victed of un­premed­i­tated mur­der of a sus­pected al-qaida ter­ror­ist in Iraq in 2008. Be­henna had been paroled from prison in 2014 af­ter he served five years of a 25-year sen­tence that later was re­duced to 15 years.

Former Trump sur­ro­gate Jef­frey Lord told the Re­view-journal he be­lieves Trump will grant clemency if he sees a mis­car­riage of justice, just as the pres­i­dent did when he com­muted the sen­tence for Alice Marie John­son, a non­vi­o­lent drug of­fender sen­tenced to life with­out pa­role, af­ter re­al­ity TV star Kim Kar­dashian lob­bied for her re­lease.

Con­tact De­bra J. Saun­ders at dsaun­[email protected]­viewjour­nal.com or 202-662-7391. Fol­low @De­bra­jsaun­ders on Twit­ter.

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