President Donald Trump personally intervened yesterday in three military war crimes cases, issuing full pardons to two Army soldiers and ordering the restoration of a Navy SEAL’s rank and pay, over the objections of his own Department of Defense, specifically Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Army secretary, Ryan McCarthy, both of of whom reached out to Trump in recent days to request he not interfere in the high-profile cases.
The first of Trump’s pardons went to Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, who was charged with ordering fellow soldiers in July 2012 to fire on Afghan motorcyclists. Members of his platoon had testified the motorcyclists posed no imminent threat. Lt. Lorance was convicted of murder and is serving a 19-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The White House said that the motorcycle, with three men on it, had approached Lt. Lorance and his unit with unusual speed, prompting the order to fire. After serving six years of his sentence, Lorance cited a petition signed by 124,000 people seeking his freedom. US House Representative Duncan Hunter, (R-Calif.), a Marine combat veteran, had pleaded the President saying: “For the record, Clint never fired his weapon. More importantly, previously withheld information now confirms forensic evidence linked DNA found on detonated roadside bombs to the DNA of the Afghan men.”
The second pardon, to Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, ends a nearly decadelong process following the 2010 death of a suspected bomb-maker in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. The White House said the suspected bomb-maker was caught after an improvised explosive device killed two U.S. Marines, and was questioned by Maj. Golsteyn. The suspect was subsequently released and later found fatally shot off base. Army officials said it was not clear at the time whether Maj. Golsteyn should have been charged in the suspect’s death. However, Maj. Golsteyn, while interviewing for a job at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2015, admitted to killing the suspected Taliban bomb maker — the fact he initially withheld this in indicative that he did something wrong — whom he identified as the terrorist responsible for the deaths of the two Marines he was commanding in Afghanistan, and that the act was justified during wartime..
The third case involved Navy Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL. Navy prosecutors charged that Chief Gallagher in 2017 stabbed to death a 12-year-old Islamic State fighter while deployed to northern Iraq with SEAL Team 7, and indiscriminately shot at civilians, threatening fellow SEALs not to report his actions. His case faced a series problems for prosecutors, and he eventually was convicted of a single count of posing with the Islamic State fighter’s dead body. That conviction included forfeiture of about $10,000 in pay, four months imprisonment and a reduction in rank. Trump commuted the penalty and restored his rank.
Under Trump’s action, his previous pay and rank will be restored. Noting his prior decorations, the White House said “a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of chief petty officer is justified.”
This is not the first time President Trump grants clemency to a soldier convicted of war crimes. This past May he pardoned Army First Lieutenant Michael Behenna convicted of unpremeditated murder. Ten years ago U.S. forces arrested an Iraqi man named Ali Mansur, on the suspicion that he was a member of al-Qaeda who had knowledge of a recent roadside bombing that had killed two American soldiers. After intelligence professionals interrogated Mansur, they ordered Behenna to drive him home. Instead, Behenna drove the detainee into the desert, stripped him naked, interrogated him at gunpoint, and then shot him in the head and chest. Behenna insisted that he shot the naked man he illegally abducted in self-defense. In this once case, aside undermining military discipline, the presidential pardon sends a horrible message that U.S. forces will be allowed to get away with anything. It also insults the hundreds of thousands of other people that have served honorably in the military.
Stephanie Grisham, the White House press spokeswoman, said on November 15 in a statement that a president is responsible for ensuring the law is enforced and when appropriate, to grant clemency. “For more than 200 years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history,” she said.
For the record, unless one has been in active combat, one cannot pretend to know exactly what our troops who are called to defend us go through. So many of our veterans who fought in Vietnam were faced with unprecedented situations, such as women and children running towards them with grenades seeking to kill them. Without having time to reflect, they had to pull the trigger in order to defend themselves and their fellow soldiers — the film American Sniper depicting U.S. Navy SEAL marksman Chris Kyle is an exemplar of this. The same terrorist strategy is used by Islamic militants. Yes war crimes have been committed in the past by those in uniform, and there is no excuse for it. They, however, cannot go into hostile terrain and be expected to fight the enemy as if he or she is fighting with a butterknife. These presidential pardons, while having my own reservations, should serve as a reminder to all of us that the troops are sacrificing their lives for us and for others and they should not be tainted by those few rotten apples. God bless them!