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Trump expected to pardon US war criminals who killed unarmed civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan

"What message is he really trying to send to the military?”

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the National Association of Realtors Legislative Meetings and Trade Expo May 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the National Association of Realtors Legislative Meetings and Trade Expo May 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump is expected to pardon U.S. military service members who have been accused or convicted of war crimes, including a Blackwater security contractor who killed dozens of unarmed Iraqis, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Nicholas A. Slatten, a Blackwater security guard, was recently found guilty of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in 2007, an incident that led to a wave of protests, as well as worldwide condemnation over the U.S. government’s use of private military contractors. Slatten may receive a pardon as soon as Memorial Day.

Trump may also pardon the Navy SEAL’s Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who is currently facing trial for shooting unarmed civilians in Iraq. Gallagher reportedly stabbed a teenage captive with a knife, killed a young girl and an old man with sniper fire, and unleashed a barrage of bullets in random neighborhoods while he was deployed in Iraq. When Navy SEAL commandos from Team 7’s Alpha Platoon reported Gallegher’s actions to their troop commander in March 2018, they were told speaking out could cost them their jobs.

Trump praised Gallagher on Twitter in March, citing his “service to our Country:”

Other potential pardons include Army Green Beret Mathew L. Golsteyn, who is accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010 (Trump referred to Golsteyn as a “hero” in a 2018 tweet); and four U.S. Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on dead Taliban insurgents in 2012. It is a crime under U.S. military law and the Geneva Conventions to desecrate bodies.

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According to the Times, which spoke to U.S. military officials on the condition of anonymity, Trump sent requests on Friday to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney to receive files and information on the criminal charges. Trump is expected to pardon the individuals on Memorial Day.

This wouldn’t be the first time Trump has pardoned controversial figures over the course of his presidency. In 2017, the president pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio (R), who was convicted of criminal contempt earlier that year for violating a federal judge’s order in 2011 that stated he could not detain immigrants simply for being undocumented. Arpaio later went on to run for Senate in Arizona.

Trump’s decision to pardon U.S. war criminals is an affront to the military criminal justice system, which “protects the rights of soldiers accused of crimes as well as, if not better then, many civilian systems,” according to former U.S. Army prosecutor Glenn Kirschner. His former employer, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, prosecuted the Blackwater case.  

“It was important that the perpetrators of those horrific offenses were brought to justice,” Kirschner said on Twitter. “Now Trump, in a twisted, grotesque ‘celebration’ of Memorial Day, wants to pardon these and other murderers?! What message is he really trying to send to the military?”