War criminals and Trump's pardon power

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Speed read

What's happening: In early May, President Trump issued a pardon to Michael Behenna, a former Army soldier who had been convicted of murdering an Iraqi prisoner. Trump has said he is now considering pardons for several other U.S. soldiers who have been charged with or convicted of committing war crimes while serving overseas.

The soldiers under consideration reportedly include Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was accused by members of his own platoon of stabbing an unarmed prisoner to death and shooting a girl with a sniper rifle.

Why there's debate: The pardons have been pushed by some conservative lawmakers and pundits on Fox News, who argue that soldiers are being punished for doing their jobs.

The idea has gotten strong pushback from current and former military officers, who believe the pardons would undermine America's moral authority and make foreign allies less willing to trust the United States. Others have called for the president to wait until the individual cases have played out in court, to avoid undercutting the military legal system.

Democratic presidential candidate and Navy veteran Pete Buttigeig said the pardons would promote the idea that “being sent to war turns you into a murderer.” There is even some discussion that the act of pardoning war criminals could itself be a war crime.

Although President Trump has the power to pardon anyone he chooses, his previous uses of that authority, some argue, have been guided by personal and political motivations rather than correcting injustice, as the Founders intended.

What's next: Initial reporting about the pardons suggested they would be issued on or around Memorial Day, although Trump later told reporters he may allow the court cases to play out before making his decision.


Pardons would defy the wishes of military leaders

"The possibility that Trump could issue pardons has brought a flood of opposition from current and former high-ranking officers, who say it would encourage misconduct by showing that violations of laws prohibiting attacks on civilians and prisoners of war will be treated with leniency." — David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times

Trump personally sees violence as a virtue

"Trump wants to dominate the targets of his hatred with arbitrary violence. With these pardons, he has made a promise to those who might engage in the violence he admires: If you do these things, I will protect you." — Jamelle Bouie, New York Times

Trump believes some acts considered war crimes are good military strategy

"Does Donald Trump agree with this fog-of-war reasoning? The evidence suggests that he doesn’t, and that he actually supports service members who have been accused of war crimes because he believes that the U.S. should intentionally engage in practices that are considered war crimes under the law." — Ben Mathis-Lilley, Slate

Pardons would undermine military efforts to get rid of toxic behavior

"The impact of decisions to pardon war criminals also has serious implications for military command and morale. Within the ranks, leaders have been fighting for years to eliminate a toxic culture — especially common in elite, highly specialized groups like Navy SEALs — but real, lasting change, of course, requires that leadership set an example from the top." — Dan Spinelli, Mother Jones

Advocates for the pardons do not speak for the military

"This, in a nutshell, is the war crimes lobby as it now exists, a metastasizing network of amateurish, enraged gawkers, gorging themselves on Fox News emissions, and who feel empowered to speak for the troops, the war, and the whole darn population of 'real' United States citizens." — Adam Weinstein, The New Republic

The pardons would weaken the U.S. military

"They would undermine the standing of the United States as a power that believes in — and follows — the rule of law. They would not project strength but rather show weakness, corroding the 'professionalism and humanity' of the armed forces." Editorial, Washington Post

The move is counter to the intended purpose of the president's pardon power

"In other words, presidential pardons are supposed to reduce cruelty. Trump would reward and encourage it. In this president's hands, it seems, even the power of mercy can become ugly and twisted." — Joel Mathis, The Week

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