WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s reported plans to pardon several U.S. servicemen accused or convicted of war crimes elicited bipartisan criticism in the Senate on Tuesday.
“I think it’s a terrible idea to pardon someone who is legitimately convicted of committing war crimes. It’s unthinkable,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told HuffPost when asked about the New York Times report.
According to the Times, the White House over the weekend requested the necessary paperwork to issue a pardon for a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes who was turned in by the men who served with him.
Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher is charged with firing on civilians in Iraq in 2017 and fatally stabbing a wounded teenage ISIS fighter. He allegedly bragged about racking up civilian kills and threatened members of his SEAL team if they reported him. He has pleaded not guilty.
Others who are reportedly up for a pardon include a former Blackwater security contractor who was found guilty of shooting dozens of unarmed Iraqis and an Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010.
The Trump administration asked for pardon paperwork on the men by the Memorial Day weekend, according to the Times.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said she “would have some issues” about the potential pardons when asked about the Times report.
“I just want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for servicemembers as well,” added Ernst, an Army National Guard combat veteran who served in Iraq.
Earlier this month, Trump issued a pardon for former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, who drove an Iraqi prisoner into the desert in 2008, stripped him and fatally shot him. Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder and was already serving a reduced sentence when the president pardoned him.
Critics say that presidential pardons of accused war criminals can undermine the military’s ethical code against atrocities and threaten current U.S. servicemembers abroad who could face retaliation.
“Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers 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,” retired U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey tweeted. Dempsey served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Barack Obama.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, accused Trump of abusing his pardon power.
“I don’t think presidential pardon powers and especially something as egregious as war crimes should be something done as a political ploy, and that seems like what he’s doing,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who also served in the Army during the Iraq War.