Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg lambasted President Trump for considering pardons for accused or convicted war criminals over Memorial Day weekend.
As Trump at the White House Friday told reporters that he hadn’t made any decisions yet in issuing pardons, he pointed out that “some of these soldiers are people that have fought hard and long.”
“You know, we teach them how to be great fighters, and then when they fight, sometimes they get really treated very unfairly,” Trump said. “There’s two or three of them right now. It’s very controversial. It’s very possible that I’ll let the trials go on and I’ll make my decision after the trial.”
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a military vet who served seven months in Afghanistan as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, rebuked Trump’s comments.
“The idea that being sent to war turns you into a murderer is exactly the kind of thing that those of us who have served have been trying to beat back for more than a generation,” said Buttigieg in an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” that aired Sunday.
“For a president, especially a president who never served, to say he’s going to come in and overrule that system of military justice undermines the very foundations, legal and moral, of this country. Frankly, his idea that being sent to fight makes you automatically into some kind of war criminal is a slander against veterans that could only come from somebody who never served.”
As he’d done last week, Buttigieg slammed Trump, who received five draft deferments, medical and academic, accusing the president of faking a disability and using his privilege to avoid serving in the Vietnam War.
“There is no question, I think, to any reasonable observer that the president found a way to falsify a disabled status, taking advantage of his privileged status in order to avoid serving,” Buttigieg told Raddatz.
“You have somebody who thinks it’s all right to let somebody go in his place into a deadly war, and is willing to pretend to be disabled in order to do it. That is an assault on the honor of this country.”
One of the military members Trump is considering pardoning is Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who is scheduled to be tried at court-martial in June. Gallagher, who was turned in by members of his unit, is charged with multiple counts of murder, and in one alleged incident, is accused of shooting and killing an unarmed elderly man and a schoolgirl while deployed in Iraq.
This wouldn’t be the first time Trump’s pardoned a military serviceman convicted of war crimes. In May, he granted clemency to former U.S. Army Lt. Michael Behenna, who was convicted of murdering a suspected Iraqi bombmaker after an unsanctioned interrogation in 2008.
And last Saturday, the Trump administration “made expedited requests” for the paperwork needed to issue a number of pardons, according to the New York Times. And former military officers have since come out against Trump’s expected plans.
“While Trump may think such actions honor the sacrifices of our veterans, they actually do a disservice to all law-abiding U.S. soldiers, endanger military members currently serving in hostile environments around the world and send a morally indefensible message to Americans and non-Americans alike,” argued Glenn Kirschner, former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who also spent six years as an Army Judge Advocate General. “These contemplated pardons represent a degradation — not a celebration — of Memorial Day.”
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, said, “If our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, if they are accused and found guilty of war crimes, we need to be very careful in that, because it is not OK to perpetrate war crimes.”
But Ernst, who is an Iraq War veteran, added, “Even though they may serve in armed services, they still are human beings. And we do have a code that we have to operate under. So, I would just advise the president to be very careful, scrutinize, of course, each case individually, and, if it’s warranted, grant a pardon. If it is not and someone has committed a war crime, then a sentence should be served.”
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