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Trump to consider pardons for some US soldiers accused of war crimes
[WASHINGTON] US President Donald Trump said on Friday he is considering pardons for "two or three" American soldiers charged with war crimes, a move he also said would be controversial but justified because they had been treated "unfairly".
Mr Trump told reporters at the White House that he has not decided yet on the cases, but may wait until the accused military servicemen stand trial before deciding whether to grant them pardons.
"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 sometime, they get really treated very unfairly," Mr Trump said.
He did not identify which cases he was reviewing.
The New York Times on May 18 reported Mr Trump had asked the Justice Department for paperwork on several high-profile war crimes cases in preparation for possible pardons to be announced on or around the US Memorial Day holiday honouring fallen troops. This year's holiday is to be observed on May 27.
One request according to the Times report was for special operations chief Edward Gallagher, a decorated US Navy SEAL court-martialed on charges he fatally stabbed a helpless, wounded Islamic State fighter in his custody, and shot two unarmed civilians from a sniper's perch during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.
The 39-year-old combat veteran and platoon leader has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Defense lawyers say the allegations against him were fabricated by subordinate SEAL team members disgruntled with his leadership style and seeking to force his ouster.
Gallagher's trial was delayed this week until June 10 at the earliest. His lawyer told Reuters he had not asked for a pardon, and Gallagher declined to comment on the possibility of presidential clemency when asked by reporters in court.
TRUMP TIES TO COURT-MARTIAL DEFENSE
But the prospect of Mr Trump offering Gallagher a pardon seemed heightened by this week's appointment to his defense team of former federal prosecutor Marc Mukasey, one of Mr Trump's personal lawyers and an associate of fellow Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani.
Another associate of former New York City Mayor Mr Giuliani, ex-New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik - who served three years in prison in a federal corruption case - is an investigator on Gallagher's defense team.
Mr Mukasey, in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, dismissed the notion of seeking a pardon for Gallagher.
"I have a job to do in the courtroom. I have no clue whether anything else is going on," he said.
Gallagher's lead civilian attorney, Timothy Parlatore, told reporters on Wednesday following a hearing at Naval Base San Diego: "If the president decides to step in, that's what the commander does."
Mr Trump first weighed in on the Gallagher case publicly in March, ordering the defendant moved to less restrictive pre-trial confinement "in honour of his past service to our country".
A number of conservative commentators have urged him to pardon Gallagher. Critics say it would pre-empt justice, undermine military discipline and send a message that battlefield atrocities will be tolerated.
The overwhelming majority of pardons are granted to people who have already been convicted and served time for a federal offense, as when Mr Trump earlier this month pardoned former Army Lieutenant Michael Behenna, who served five years in prison for killing an Iraqi prisoner in 2008.
But presidents have occasionally granted pardons preemptively to individuals accused of or suspected of a crime.
The most famous such case was the blanket pardon President Gerald Ford bestowed on his predecessor, Richard Nixon, following Mr Nixon's resignation during the Watergate scandal.