WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has pardoned a former U.S. Army commando set to stand trial next year in the killing of a suspected Afghan bomb-maker and for a former Army lieutenant who had been convicted of murder after he ordered his men to fire upon three Afghans, killing two, the White House announced late Friday.
The commander in chief also ordered a promotion for a decorated U.S. Navy SEAL convicted of posing with a dead Islamic State captive in Iraq.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a written statement that the president is responsible for ensuring the law is enforced and that, when appropriate, “mercy is granted.”
“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,” she said. “These actions are in keeping with this long history.”
Trump said earlier this year that he was considering issuing the pardons.
“Some of these soldiers are people that have fought hard and long,” he said in May. “You know, we teach them how to be great fighters, and then when they fight sometimes they get really treated very unfairly.” At the time, Trump acknowledged opposition to possible pardons by some veterans groups and said he could allow the trials to go forward and decide about pardons after the trials.
One of the pardons went to Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a former Green Beret accused of killing a suspected bomb-maker while deployed to Afghanistan. Golsteyn has argued that the Afghan was a legal target because of his behavior at the time of the shooting.
The second pardon went to 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been convicted of murder for ordering his soldiers to fire upon three unarmed Afghan men in July 2012, killing two. Lorance has served more than six years of a 19-year sentence.
Trump also ordered a promotion for Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Edward Gallagher, the SEAL convicted of posing with a dead Islamic State captive in Iraq in 2017. Gallagher was in line for a promotion before he was prosecuted, but he lost that and was reduced in rank after the conviction.
Late last month Adm. Mike Gilday, the U.S. chief of naval operations, denied a request for clemency for Gallagher and upheld a military jury’s sentence that reduced his rank by one step. One of Gallagher’s lawyers, Timothy Parlatore, said that ruling would cost Gallagher up to $200,000 in retirement funds because of his loss of rank from a chief petty officer to a 1st class petty officer.
Gallagher ultimately was acquitted of the most serious charges against him, and Grisham said the reinstatement of the promotion was “justified,” given Gallagher’s service.
Defense officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with Trump and provided him information on the cases.
Asked the previous week if he supported the exoneration of Gallagher, Golsteyn and Lorance, Esper told reporters that he had a “robust discussion” with the president about the issue and offered his advice and recommendations. He declined to provide more details, but said, “I do have full confidence in the military justice system and we’ll let things play out as they play out.”