Trump Pardons Service Members Accused Of War Crimes
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Trump has cleared three U.S. servicemen accused or convicted of war crimes. He intervened in three different cases against the advice of the Pentagon last night, granting full pardons to two men and reversing the demotion of a third. NPR's Tom Bowman has been following the story and joins us. Tom, thanks for being with us.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: You're welcome, Scott.
SIMON: And please tell us about these three men.
BOWMAN: Well, Scott, you have two Army officers - Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Major Matt (ph) Golsteyn - and a Navy SEAL, Edward Gallagher. Lorance was in Afghanistan in 2012 and ordered his soldiers to fire on three men on motorcycles. Two of the Afghans were killed and one fled. Now, Golsteyn also served in Afghanistan and in 2010 was awarded a Silver Star for bravery. And he also allegedly killed a bomb-maker. The Army investigated and said - and no charges were filed. Then Golsteyn later said on Fox News that he, indeed, killed the bomb-maker. And finally, Gallagher, the Navy SEAL, was acquitted in Iraq in 2018 with killing a captive enemy fighter with a hunting knife and also threatening to kill fellow Navy SEALs if they told on him. And he was acquitted of all charges.
SIMON: President Trump has been vocal in their behalf for a while now. What did the White House statement say last night?
BOWMAN: Well, the president praised all three - again, Army Lieutenant Clint Lorance, Army Major Matt Golsteyn and Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher. He said they were in dangerous areas in Iraq and Afghanistan, were looking after their men, were decorated and had support of members of Congress.
SIMON: And how does that square, Tom, with what you understand?
BOWMAN: Well, the White House statement left out many details, Scott, about what happened and the reaction of their colleagues. With Major Golsteyn, the man he killed was unarmed - that alleged bomb-maker. And Golsteyn buried the body, returned with two other soldiers to burn the body. With Lieutenant Lorance, that his own soldiers said the unarmed Afghans, the unarmed - the Afghan was unarmed, the Afghans, and he ordered the order to kill. And they posed no imminent threat. And they actually testified against him. And with Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, that he was acquitted of charges of killing a civilian but he was demoted by a senior officer.
SIMON: And, Tom, I know you've been talking to sources in the military. Can you tell us what their reaction's been so far?
BOWMAN: Well, frankly, disgust, in so many words. I spoke with two retired four-star officers who said the president has the power to offer clemency and restore a promotion, but they said it all undermines the military justice system.
Now, we know that Defense Secretary Mark Esper - he told reporters two weeks ago that he had a, quote, "robust discussion" with the president about the cases, about the importance of the military justice system. And he offered, he said, facts and my advice. And clearly, the president, in this case, just brushed aside the advice and decided he could do this on his own.
SIMON: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, thanks so much.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Scott.
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