Trump pardons military officers convicted of war crimes

Updated November 17, 2019

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US President Donald Trump has granted full pardons to two American military officials and restored the rank of a third – although all three were found guilty of committing war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. — AP/File
US President Donald Trump has granted full pardons to two American military officials and restored the rank of a third – although all three were found guilty of committing war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. — AP/File

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has granted full pardons to two American military officials and restored the rank of a third – although all three were found guilty of committing war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The White House said in a statement on Friday night that President Trump granted the pardons because as commander in chief, he’s “responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted.”

The US media, however, reported that the unusual move had put the president at odds with the US military’s justice system, and noted that as an institution the Pentagon has never appreciated such interventions.

One of the pardoned Army officers is First Lt. Clint Lorance, who has served six years of a 19-year sentence, after he was convicted of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice in Afghanistan.

He was charged with ordering soldiers to shoot at unarmed men — a command which resulted in the death of two of the Afghani men.

The other pardoned Army officer is Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was awaiting trial after being accused of an extrajudicial killing of a suspected bombmaker in Afghanistan; in December 2018. He was charged with premeditated murder.

President Trump also reversed the demotion of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who was convicted of posing with the corpse of an enemy combatant in Iraq. In July Gallagher was acquitted of murder and other charges.

The Washington Post reported that some senior Pentagon officials tried to persuade President Trump to change his mind because they feared it would undercut the power and reputation of the military justice system.

But the White House defended the pardons, saying: “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.”

Earlier this year, President Trump pardoned Michael Behenna, a former first lieutenant convicted for killing an Iraqi during interrogation. This was the first pardon for a convicted murderer in modern US history.

Phillip Carter, a former Army officer and official in the Obama administration, told the Washington Post that such executive orders “introduce doubt into the chain of command, and creates uncertainty about accountability for breaches of military rules.”

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2019