US President Donald Trump is considering pardoning several members of the US military who have been accused or convicted of committing war crimes, the New York Times reported Saturday.
The Trump administration made expedited requests for the paperwork to be completed in time for the president to pardon the troops by Memorial Day later this month, two US officials told the Times.
According to the report, one of the pardons was for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL on trial for killing unarmed civilians in 2017 while deployed in Iraq.
Gallagher, a decorated 39-year-old veteran of combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, will stand trial later this month for war crimes that include stabbing an Iraqi teenage prisoner to death, killing a young girl and an old man with a sniper rifle, and firing indiscriminately into residential neighborhoods.
Trump was also reportedly considering a pardon for Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a US Army Green Beret charged with murdering an unarmed man in Afghanistan in 2010.
The Times said Nicholas Slatten, a former Blackwater contractor convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting of dozens of unarmed civilians in Baghdad in 2007, was also being considered for a pardon by Trump.
The White House and Department of Justice declined to comment to the New York Times on the report.
Gallagher and Golsteyn’s cases have become politically charged in recent months with some Republican Congress members calling for prosecutors to drop charges or a presidential pardon. In March, 40 lawmakers signed a letter urging the Navy to free Gallagher pending trial.
Soon after, Trump announced on Twitter that Gallagher would be moved to “less restrictive confinement.”
Trump has already used his powers in a military case, pardoning a former US soldier convicted in 2009 of killing an Iraqi prisoner. Former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone after killing a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist in Iraq. A military court had sentenced Behenna to 25 years in prison. He was paroled in 2014 and had been scheduled to remain on parole until 2024.
Gallagher, a platoon commander of SEAL Team 7, is accused of killing a teenage Islamic State fighter under his care and then holding his reenlistment ceremony with the corpse during a deployment in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where US special forces were fighting against the Islamic State group.
Navy prosecutors also accuse Gallagher of fatally shooting two civilians and opening fire on crowds during his deployment. Gallagher has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
He was arrested last September after men under his command in the elite Navy unit were so horrified by his actions that they complained to their superiors, but were warned that their accusations could damage their careers, according to reports in The Navy Times and The New York Times.
He faces charges of premeditated murder, attempted murder and obstruction of justice. He could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty.
Gallagher is slated to face a military tribunal at a Navy base in San Diego on May 28, a day after Memorial Day.
According to testimony at a preliminary hearing last November, members of Gallagher’s Alpha platoon were so disturbed by his behavior that they tampered with his sniper rifle to make it less accurate, and would fire warning shots to make civilians flee before he could open fire on them.
Gallagher allegedly boasted about the number of people he had killed, including women, according to the Times.
Special Agent Joe Warpinski of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service told the military court during the hearing that the SEAL team in Mosul “spent more time protecting civilians [from Gallagher] than they did fighting ISIS.”
Agencies contributed to this report.