Apparently, Donald Trump intends to make Memorial Day a memorable day this year, although not in a good way. According to the New York Times, there are signs that he may be planning to pardon several current and former servicemen accused or convicted of war crimes on this occasion.
After issuing a controversial pardon earlier this month for Army First Lt. Michael Behenna, who had been convicted of killing an Iraqi prisoner during an interrogation, Donald Trump has now requested that the DOJ prepare paperwork that could serve as the basis of presidential pardons for a number of other candidates.
One name on the list, according to the NYT’s sources, is that of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher. He’s facing trial for gunning down a girl in a flowered hijab, and an unarmed old man in the streets, while deployed in Iraq and – on another occasion – stabbing a teenage captive to death with his hunting knife.
Since talk of the prospective pardons has become public, a number of people from all over the political spectrum have spoken up critically. One of them is Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw – himself a former Navy SEAL – who said that “these cases should be decided by the courts, where the entirety of the evidence can be viewed. Only after that should a pardon be considered.”
Marine combat vet and current Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts said he considers it “an insult” to veterans when the president pardons war criminals. NBC/MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner, who has served as a US Army JAG, stated on Twitter that “the need to maintain good order & a cohesive fighting force requires that soldiers act in a law abiding way even under the most difficult circumstances.”
A new report from the Daily Beast has revealed that the person who has successfully lobbied Trump to pardon Edward Gallagher and Major Mathew L. Golsteyn, whose name also seems to be on the list, appears to be Fox & Friends co-host Pete Hegseth. Hegseth, who has become a kind of unofficial adviser to Trump, has reportedly voiced his opinion that he considers the military’s current rules of engagement to be too restrictive and to be setting U.S. troops up for failure. “These are men who went into the most dangerous places on earth with a job to defend us and made tough calls on a moment’s notice,” he said. “They’re not war criminals, they’re warriors.”
These attempts at re-casting the killing of unarmed civilians as the necessary actions of red-blooded war fighters are certain to resonate well with a president who endorsed waterboarding and other forms of torture, as well as the idea of killing family members of terrorist suspects while he was on the campaign trail. They may also resonate well with Donald Trump’s hardcore base, but not with any other group of citizens and voters. Trump’s pardons – if they end up being issued – will only be popular with a rather small number of people and perhaps they will serve to finally push a few fence-sitters off their perch.