Trump may pardon troops in war crime cases, including SEAL Edward Gallagher, reports say

William Cummings

President Donald Trump is considering pardons for American troops who have been accused or convicted of war crimes, and he may issue them as the country commemorates Memorial Day, according to The New York Times and CBS News

Citing two unidentified U.S. officials, The Times reported Saturday that the White House made "expedited requests" last week for the paperwork needed to process the pardons. 

One unidentified official told CBS the Justice Department had requested the case files from the Pentagon. 

The reports said some high-profile cases are under consideration for pardons. One involves Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who is accused of using a knife to kill a teenage Islamic State prisoner in Iraq, as well as separate incidents of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians. 

According to prosecutors, a SEAL medic said he had just gotten the wounded prisoner stabilized when Gallagher walked up and stabbed the teen in the neck and body. They say he posed with the prisoner's body and included it as a prop in his re-enlistment ceremony, bragging, "I got this one with my knife." 

Seven Navy SEALs were granted immunity in the case. Investigators said Gallagher occasionally fired indiscriminately into crowds of civilians. He also is accused of shooting an elderly man carting a water jug in Mosul in June 2017 and a girl walking along a riverbank in the same area a month later. 

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In March, Trump said that in "honor of his past service to our Country," he was having the Bronze Star recipient moved to "less restrictive confinement" while he awaits trial, which is set to begin May 28 in San Diego. 

On May 8, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said he would ask Trump to pardon Gallagher after viewing footage from a helmet camera, which he said exonerates the 19-year veteran. Hunter himself is awaiting trial on a 60-count federal indictment for improper use of campaign funds. 

Nicholas Slatten, a former contractor for the security firm Blackwater – now known as Academi – is also being considered for a pardon, according to the reports. Slatten was convicted in December of first-degree murder on charges that he sparked a shooting that ended with 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians dead and another 17 wounded.

It was the second time Slatten was found guilty in the case. A federal judge ordered a retrial after his first conviction in 2014 on the grounds that Slatten had not been allowed to introduce evidence that another man may have fired the first shots. 

The 2007 rampage in Baghdad's Nisour Square was investigated by the military and a congressional panel. Slatten and three other Blackwater security guards were part of a convoy escorting a U.S. diplomat when they came to the busy circle where they opened fire with machine guns and grenade launchers.

They said they fired when a sedan lurched toward them, which they feared could have been a bomb. But no device was found and the medical student driving the car was unarmed. 

Slatten: 'I am a POW in my own country'

Another case under consideration, according to The Times, is that of Maj. Mathew Golsteyn. He is charged with murder for shooting an unarmed Taliban bombmaker in Afghanistan in 2010. In December, Trump said he would be reviewing Golsteyn's case, calling him a "U.S. Military hero." 

Opinion: Let military justice system decide if Major Matthew Golsteyn is a victim or murderer

A group of Marines who faced charges for urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters after video of the 2011 incident surfaced are also being looked at for pardons, The Times reported. 

According to The Times, the pardoning process for service members usually is a matter of months, but the Justice Department asked that the files be ready by Memorial Day weekend, when the president planned to announce the pardons. 

It would not be the first time Trump has used his pardon power in a military case. Earlier this month, he pardoned former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, who had been convicted in the 2009 killing of a suspected al-Qaida terrorist who had been taken prisoner in Iraq. 

The American Civil Liberties Union called that pardon a "presidential endorsement of a murder."

Contributing: Michael Collins, USA TODAY; The Associated Press 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump may pardon troops in war crime cases, including SEAL Edward Gallagher, reports say