While I’m sure many people were expecting this to happen, there’s still quite a bit of justifiable controversy over the President’s decision yesterday to issue pardons to two members of the American military and restore the rank of a third who was previously convicted of a war crime. Trump’s reputation as a strong advocate for our military is well known, but some of the details behind the actions of two of these troops are beyond disturbing. (NPR)
President Trump has issued pardons for two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan and restored the rank of a Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murder in Iraq…
The officers include 1st Lt. Clint Lorance who has served six years of a 19-year sentence on two charges of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice after ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed men in Afghanistan, killing two of them. He had been convicted in 2013.
The other pardoned officer is Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, a West Point graduate, who was awaiting trial for allegedly murdering a suspected Afghan bombmaker in 2010. The trial was scheduled for next year.
The third service member, the one who had his rank restored, was Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL. I’ve written about Gallagher before, specifically when his trial ended with all but one of the charges against him being dropped. In this case, the President probably isn’t too far out of line in restoring his rank.
Gallagher had his day in court and as the details emerged (see the previous link for the particulars) it looked more and more like he was being set up by his own men. The act of posing for a photo with the dead teenage ISIS militant is probably distasteful for many, but we learned that the same troops bringing the complaint against him had also posed for similar photos. In the end, Gallagher’s case can probably be chalked up to what my dad used to say to me about his time in Europe during WW2. “Son, sometimes bad things happen in war.”
The other two service members are another matter entirely. Clint Lorance also had his day in court and he lost. He was convicted of both second-degree murder and attempting to obstruct an investigation into the charges. While it’s certainly hard to muster much sympathy for alleged members of the Taliban or al Qaeda, ordering his men to open fire on unarmed individuals is still outside the rules of engagement. Forgiving him sets a bad example for the rest of the troops. Our soldiers are out there fighting against monsters. That doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to behave like monsters ourselves.
Pretty much the same can be said for Matthew Golsteyn, but with one key difference. The victim, in that case, was allegedly a Taliban bombmaker. Again, it’s hard to feel too sorry for a guy like that, but he allegedly wasn’t a casualty of war during active fighting. He was just killed. And more to the point, Golsteyn hasn’t even been to trial yet, so we don’t have enough information to say if he even needed a pardon, to say nothing of deserving one.
The Pentagon was opposed to both of these pardons. As I mentioned above, the military feels that this sets a bad example for the rest of the troops and encourages lawless behavior in the field. It’s true that we expect our military, and particularly our special forces like the SEALs, to display aggression in combat and defeat our enemies. But there have to be limits on when, where and how you kill the enemy or we’ll be viewed as being little better than the terrorists we’re sending our troops to defeat.
The President has the right to pardon whomever he or she wishes. That’s a fact not in dispute unless someone tries to pardon themselves at some point. But I personally wish Donald Trump had listened to his top military advisors on this one and held back until the normal legal process had played out.