President Donald Trump pardoned three members of the armed services who have been accused of war crimes, overruling military leaders that wanted to follow martial law procedures.

In a statement released by the White House Friday, Trump ordered the full pardon of Clint Lorance, a former Army lieutenant, who was serving a 19-year sentence for the murder of two civilians. He ordered the full pardon of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, an Army Special Forces officer facing murder charges for killing an unarmed Afghan whom he believed was a bomb maker. Trump also reversed the demotion of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murder charges but convicted of a minor offense of taking a photo with a corpse.

The statement from the Press Secretary says that “[t]he 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,” it reads. “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.'”

While Trump’s decision was celebrated by the families of the three men and conservative supporters, some military officials found the pardons to overstep his authority.

“The tragedy of pardoning Lorance isn’t that he will be released from prison — I’ve found room for compassion there,” Patrick Swanson, a former Army captain who was Lieutenant Lorance’s company commander in Afghanistan told the New York Times. “The tragedy is that people will hail him as a hero, and he is not a hero. He ordered those murders. He lied about them.”

Lorance had been in command of a platoon in Afghanistan for only two days in July 2012 when he ordered his troops to fire on unarmed villagers, killing two men. He then called in false reports over the radio to cover up what had happened, but was turned in by his own troops. He was convicted of second-degree murder by a court-martial in 2013 after nine of his men testified against him, and has been serving his sentence at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Charles Dunlap, a retired major general who is now the head of Duke University’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, told the Times Golsteyn’s pardon was “most troubling.”

“A court-martial is the best way to determine the facts,” he said. “We were never able to find out whether the facts would clear Golsteyn or not.”

Golsteyn was charged with premeditated murder over a killing that took place in 2010, when he was a captain in the Army Special Forces. He admitted that he had killed a suspected bomb maker who had been captured and released, saying he had done so to protect civilians and his own men. An initial Army investigation resulted in a reprimand but no charges.

After he publicly admitted the killing during a 2016 interview on Fox News, the case was reopened and he was charged with premeditated murder in 2018. He was awaiting trial.

Gallagher was found not guilty of murdering an ISIS fighter in Iraq in 2017 but was convicted in July of a lesser charge of posing for a photo with the dead prisoner’s corpse. Because of the charge, he was demoted  from chief petty officer to 1st class petty officer.

In a statement released Friday, Gallagher thanked Trump for reversing the demotion – a punishment that would have cost him about $200,000 in retirement funds.

“There are no words to adequately express how grateful my family and I are to our president, Donald J. Trump, for his intervention and decision,” Gallagher wrote. “We would also like to thank the American people for their unwavering support during this very difficult time for my family and I — we can never thank you enough.”

He added, “I truly believe that we are blessed as a nation to have a commander in chief that stands up for our war fighters, and cares about how they and their families are treated.”

 

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Statement from SOC Eddie Gallagher 🇺🇸 • • “There are no words to adequately express how grateful my family and I are to our President – Donald J. Trump for his intervention and decision. @realdonaldtrump @vp • • We would also like to thank the American people for their unwavering support during this very difficult time for my family and I – we can never thank you enough. • • In addition I would like to thank my wife Andrea and children Treven, Ava, and Ryan. My brother Sean, my family and friends who stood by me as well as ~ Bernie Kerik, Tim Parlatore and Marc Mukasey and my entire legal team for their hard work and diligence on my behalf during our fight for justice. • • I truly believe that we are blessed as a Nation to have a Commander-in-Chief that stands up for our warfighters, and cares about how they and their families are treated. • • Our military is the best in the world, and with steadfast and supportive leadership; like we have in this President, our fighting force will only get stronger. • • God bless the United States of America, our President, and the men and women in our armed forces and their families.” • • Edward ‘Eddie’ Gallagher Chief U.S. Naval Special Warfare 🐸🔱🇺🇸

A post shared by Eddie & Andrea (@eddie_and_andrea) on Nov 15, 2019 at 4:02pm PST

Lorance also expressed his gratitude during an appearance on Fox & Friends Monday.

“I’m just so glad that we’re part of this, amazing country. And it’s got such great, impassioned leadership, and it’s amazing,” he said.

“I love you, sir. You’re awesome,” Lorance told Trump on air. “I’ll say this, Mr. President, I wish you had a better team around you. You need more people watching your back. And I think you don’t have a lot of that. And that is absolutely unfortunate. And that infuriates me to no end.”

Golsteyn, who appeared  on Fox & Friends: Weekend Saturday, said that he woke up “incredibly stunned and awed by the president’s generosity.”

Trump’s pardons have garnered both praise and rebuke, demonstrating a divide between those who think military members should have more freedom and those who do not.

House minority whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) told Fox News Sunday that the pardons will prevent military officials from being preoccupied worrying about potential legal repercussions.

“I’ve heard from our men and women in uniform for years that they felt that they were sidelined because they needed a team of attorneys before they could return fire in the battlefield,” Scalise said. “I think our troops’ morale is much higher… troops that I’ve heard from… because this has been a concern.”

Rep. Jim Hines (D-Connecticut), appeared on the show after Scalise expressed disproval of the pardons and Scalise’s remarks.

“What makes me saddest about this is, despite what Steve Scalise said, this is not a question of our soldiers being constrained by lawyers on the battlefield,” Himes said. “We seek justice, and that’s what we have done. The president has reversed that. That sends a terrible signal to those good people in the military.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted that Trump is “not fit to command our troops.”

“Trump’s intervention in the American military justice system to pardon service members accused or convicted of war crimes betrays the rule of law, the values that make our country exceptional & the men and women who wear the uniform honorably,” Biden wrote Sunday. “He is not fit to command our troops.”