The power of the president to pardon is absolute. There is no chance for review, except for Congress to remove the president if he exercises it without principle.
Presidents of both parties have misused their power. Usually, they have done so for political reasons, to reward supporters or contributors. It happened again last week, when President Donald Trump pardoned former newspaper publisher Conrad Black, who was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice related to sales of his newspapers but later wrote a glowing biography of Trump, and former California Republican Assembly leader Patrick Nolan, who pleaded guilty to racketeering in a 1990s political corruption case but who also pleased Trump by criticizing the Russia investigation.
Trump has used his power more judiciously in pardoning deceased boxer Jack Johnson and commuting the sentence of Alice Johnson, a first-time nonviolent drug offender who served 21 years in prison.
But now Trump is considering a series of pardons that would be grotesque. He is preparing to grant clemency to current and former American servicemen accused of war crimes.
Let that sink in. These are men, some already convicted, who betrayed our nation’s honor and integrity with their actions toward other countries’ citizens.
Among them are:
- Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL platoon leader scheduled to be tried soon on charges that he routinely sprayed machine-gun fire randomly into civilian neighborhoods in Iraq, killed an unarmed schoolgirl and an old man as a sniper, and stabbed to death a captured and wounded Islamic State fighter who was around 15 years old. Gallagher was turned in by seven fellow Navy SEAL commandos, who did so despite warnings from superiors that they could jeopardize their military futures.
- Army veteran Nicholas Slatten, found guilty of first-degree murder in a notorious 2007 incident in which he and fellow Blackwater contractors opened fire in a Baghdad traffic circle and killed 14 unarmed civilians.
- Mathew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret major accused of killing a suspected Afghan bomb maker after the unarmed man had been released and then disposing his body in a burn pit. Golsteyn admitted to the killing in a TV interview.
- Four Marines videotaped urinating on corpses of dead Taliban fighters, after which they were found guilty of dereliction of duty.
Charges of war crimes must be carefully considered. But two cases have resulted in convictions. The other two clearly are troubling. There was no valor here, no misunderstood motives, no defense of American values. These are not cases in which a president should feel compelled to grant a pardon. Doing so, especially for Gallagher, would send an awful signal to other military members about their commitment to honor and duty.
The fact that Trump apparently wants to do so as part of the commemoration of Memorial Day — the nation’s formal recognition of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who gave their lives in honorable service to their country — is disgraceful.