Donald Trump pardoned three service members who had been accused of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan over the objections of the Pentagon, which believes the president’s actions undermine the military justice system.
Two of the three accused soldiers had been serving prison sentences, and one was still on active duty awaiting trial.
Army Lt. Clint Lorance had been serving 19 years at Fort Leavenworth for ordering a soldier to fire on an unarmed motorcyclist in 2012. Army Green Beret Maj. Matt Golsteyn had been charged with killing an alleged Afghan bomb-maker in 2010. And Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher was acquitted of killing a wounded Islamic State captive earlier this year, but was sentenced to four months of time served and a reduction in rank for posing with a corpse during a 2017 deployment to Iraq.
“Today, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) for Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) for Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, and an order directing the promotion of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward R. Gallagher to the grade of E-7, the rank he held before he was tried and found not guilty of nearly all of the charges against him,” the statement read.
“The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted,” the statement continued. “For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country.”
The Pentagon appeared to stand behind the original verdicts of the courts martial.
“The Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system,” said Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman. “The President is part of the military justice system as the Commander-in-Chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature.”
Others were less circumspect in their criticism.
“This is so dangerous, nothing pisses me off more than these pardons,” a retired general officer fumed to ABC News after they were announced. “This undermines everything we have stood for — all my years of service goes up in smoke because we have a dictator who has no respect for the rule of law nor what we stand for.”
Sounds like some general officers have been reading Democratic Party talking points.
I don’t think it’s necessarily dangerous, but on some levels, it’s disturbing. The case of Lt. Lorance appears inexcusable while Golsteyn illegally took the law into his own hands after the Taliban bomb-maker was freed by the U.S. military. Golsteyn followed him after his release and killed him. The sentence given Gallagher seems appropriate given the violation of protocol, although posing with a corpse is more a part of the ethos of the SEALs than any deliberate infraction.
And the Pentagon has a point too. Not only does the brass have to believe in the military justice system, but ordinary soldiers and sailors as well. But since the leniency showed to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for desertion, ordinary soldiers have cause to distrust the judgment of the brass. They bowed to political pressure from a president who had celebrated his release after allowing 7 dangerous terrorists to be exchanged for him. Obama needed a win, and the military courts handed it to him.
Trump has his own political needs and pardoning the soldiers, while justifiable, filled them nicely.