US President Donald Trump on Friday pardoned a former soldier convicted of murder and a Green Beret charged with killing a suspected Taliban bomb-maker, defying warnings that the move would be an abuse of the powers afforded him under the US Constitution.
Trump dismissed a second degree murder conviction against Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, who is six years into a 19-year term for ordering soldiers in 2012 to fire on three unarmed Afghan men on a motorcycle, two of whom died.
“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 a White House statement released Friday.
He also granted clemency to West Point graduate Matt Golsteyn, an ex-member of the elite US Army Green Berets, charged with premeditated murder in the shooting death of an alleged Taliban bomb-maker in 2010.
The case prompted Trump to tweet that Golsteyn was a “US military hero” who could face the death penalty “from our own government.”
The president also reversed the demotion of Edward Gallagher, a 15-year Navy Seal accused of stabbing to death a wounded teenage Islamic State prisoner in Iraq, and of other killings of civilians.
Gallagher was cleared of the most serious charges in July but was convicted of posing with the slain fighter’s body in a group picture with other SEALs.
“Congratulations to Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, his wonderful wife Andrea, and his entire family. You have been through much together. Glad I could help!” Trump tweeted at the time.
“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 said in a statement posted on Instagram.
Retired Navy admiral James Stavridis was among those who came out strongly against Trump’s reported plans when he first revealed he was thinking of the pardons in May.
“I commanded several of the servicemen Trump may pardon,” the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander wrote in Time magazine. “Letting them off will undermine the military.”
Such pardons would be “an affront to the idea of good order and discipline and to the idea of the rule of law” warned Democratic presidential hopeful and Navy veteran Pete Buttigieg.
Trump has granted controversial pardons to a number of allies including conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza and former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.