President Trump granted clemency Friday night for three military service members accused of war crimes.
Mr. Trump granted full pardons for Army First Lt. Clint Lorance and Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, and ordered the promotion of Navy SEAL Edward R. Gallagher to the rank he held before he was tried and found not guilty of most of the charges against him.
“The president, as commander in chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted,” the White House said. “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. These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the president has stated, ‘when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.’”
Lt. Lorance has served more than six years of a 19-year sentence for his conviction involving the killings of two Afghan men on a motorcycle in July 2012 in a battle zone in Afghanistan.
“Many Americans have sought executive clemency for Lorance, including 124,000 people who have signed a petition to the White House, as well as several members of Congress,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.
The White House said Lt. Lorance, “Under difficult circumstances and prioritizing the lives of American troops, ordered his men to engage, and two of the three men were killed.”
Maj. Golsteyn has been facing trial for an allegedly unlawful killing of a suspected Taliban bombmaker in connection with one of the largest battles of the Afghanistan war, the White House said.
“As our forces cleared the Taliban from the city of Marjah, an improvised explosive device detonated, killing two Marines,” the statement said. “The terrorist bombmaker, as identified by an Afghan informant, who had killed our troops, was detained and questioned.”
The White House said Maj. Golsteyn “was compelled to release him, however, due in part to deficiencies within the fledgling Afghan detention system. Golsteyn has said he later shot the terrorist because he was certain that the terrorist’s bombmaking activities would continue to threaten American troops and their Afghan partners, including Afghan civilians who had helped identify him.”
“After nearly a decadelong inquiry and multiple investigations, a swift resolution to the case of Major Golsteyn is in the interests of justice,” Ms. Grisham said. “Clemency for Major Golsteyn has broad support.”
Maj. Golsteyn said he was “profoundly grateful” to the president for granting clemency to the highly decorated former Green Beret.
“We have lived in constant fear of this runaway prosecution. Thanks to President Trump, we now have a chance to rebuild our family and lives,” he said in a statement released through his lawyer, Fayetteville, N.C.-based Phillip Stackhouse. “With time, I hope to regain my immense pride in having served in our military. In the meantime, we are so thankful for the support of family members, friends and supporters from around the nation, and our legal team.”
Maj. Golsteyn had been cleared in the 2010 incident by an Army Board of Inquiry. He was discharged in 2015 but later was returned to active duty to face trial at Fort Bragg. His family remained at their home in Virginia.
His lawyer said they were confident he would have prevailed in the trial but said the pardon by Mr. Trump “expedited justice” in the case.
“Maj. Golsteyn should have been medically retired years ago because of service-related injuries and allowed to move on with his life and family,” Mr. Stackhouse said. “Instead, the Army secretly pursued him for seven years.
“The origination and true motivation of this prosecution remains a mystery,” he said. “We urge the Army to learn from this flawed, compromised prosecution and prevent similar abuses in the future.”
Special Warfare Operator First Class Gallagher had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a “V” for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor, the White House said. He was convicted of posing for a photo with a dead Islamic State fighter.
“Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified,” the statement said.
Ms. Grisham said the U.S. military justice system “helps ensure good order and discipline for our millions of uniformed military members and holds to account those who violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Due in part to this system, we have the most disciplined, most effective, most respected, and most feared fighting force in the world.”