US President Donald Trump cleared three armed service members Friday, who were were accused or convicted of war crimes.
Trump cancelled murder charges against Army Green Beret Major Mathew L. Golsteyn, whose trial was set to begin next month.
The president also ordered the release of Clint Lorance, a former army lieutenant who had been convicted of murder for ordering soldiers under his command to open fire on three unarmed Afgan men, including two who died.
And Trump reversed the demotion of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murder, but convicted on a lesser charge in a war crimes case this summer.
‘There are no words to describe how grateful my family and I are to our President – Donald J Trump for his intervention and decision’, Gallagher said in a social media post after his demotion was reversed.
Trump personally called the three men after granting the pardons, which defied rulings made by military leaders seeking to punish the service members.
All three also had been favorites among conservatives who see them as heroes who should not have been prosecuted. Trump, when the White House was considering intervening in Golsteyn’s case, commented at the time, ‘We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill’!
In explaining his decision to clear the three service members on Friday, the White House released a statement saying ‘The president, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted’.
‘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’, the statement explains.
‘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”.
A court-martial for Golsteyn had been scheduled for December at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but was postponed until February.
The former Green Beret had been accused of killing a suspected bomb-maker while deployed in Afghanistan in 2010.
Golsteyn has argued that the Afghan was a legal target because of his behavior at the time of the shooting.
Leading a team of Army Special Forces troops at the time, Golsteyn said he believed that the bomb-maker, known only as Rasoul, was responsible for an explosion that killed two US Marines – Sgt. Jeremy R. McQueary, 27, and Lance Cpl. Larry M. Johnson, 19.
The case attracted Trump’s attention. He tweeted that Golsteyn is a ‘U.S. Military hero’ who could face the death penalty ‘from our own government’.