On Friday, the White House announced that President Trump pardoned two service members accused of committing war crimes and promoted a third.
One of the Army officers, First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, had been in military prison at Fort Leavenworth since 2013, serving a 19-year sentence after being convicted of two counts of second-degree murder for ordering his troops to shoot kill unarmed men in Afghanistan The other officer, Green Beret Major Matthew Golsteyn, was scheduled to be tried next year and stood accused of the extrajudicial killing of a suspected bomb maker. The president also restored the rank of Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, who was acquitted of murder charges earlier this year but demoted for posing for photos with a corpse.
Trump has been vocal in his support of service members accused of war crimes, whose cases have often been supported in conservative media. This spring, the president ordered Gallagher moved to less restrictive custody while awaiting trial, and tweeted his congratulations to the Navy Seal after his murder acquittal. In May, he pardoned a former Army lieutenant who had been convicted for murdering an Iraqi prisoner.
After Gallagher’s trial, Trump ordered the Navy to strip officials who had prosecuted him of achievement medals. Gallagher had been accused by six members of his platoon of shooting at unarmed Afghan civilians and stabbing a teenage captive.
The New York Times reported that Pentagon officials including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy advised that the president not to pardon the men citing concerns that his intervention threatens to undercut the military’s justice system.
Last month, Trump tweeted that Golsteyn’s case was “under review at the White House. "We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!” he wrote.
While presidents have often granted clemency to service members, pardons have generally been awarded to draft evaders and deserters. According to the Times, Trump's actions may represent the first time in recent history that a president has pardoned service members who were convicted of violent crimes.
Trump’s support for the accused service members echoes of the case of William Calley, who in 1971 was convicted of murdering civilians in the My Lai Massacre. Then-president Richard Nixon spoke out in support of Calley during his trial, and after Calley’s conviction, ordered him to serve his sentence under house arrest at Fort Benning rather than in Leavenworth. However, Calley was released three years later on parole—unlike Trump, Nixon did not pardon him.
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