presidential pardon
November 16, 2019

President Trump pardoned two U.S. service members accused of war crimes Friday and restored the rank of a third who was charged with posing for a picture with the corpse of an enemy combatant in Iraq, but was acquitted of murder.

One of the men Trump pardoned, Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, is currently in the sixth year of a 19-year sentence for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed men in Afghanistan, killing two of them. Meanwhile, Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn was awaiting trial for allegedly murdering a suspected Afghan bombmaker in 2010 before Trump granted clemency, and Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, a 15-year Navy SEAL, will have his rank restored after he was docked for the photograph.

Some Pentagon and military officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper had reportedly urged Trump not to intervene in the cases, or at least consider holding off, but he didn't take that advice. But while his decision may be controversial, it is within his powers to grant clemency, as the Defense Department acknowledged Friday evening. "The Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said. "The president is part of the military justice system as the commander-in-chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature." Read more at NPR and Fox News. Tim O'Donnell

November 6, 2019

President Trump has the power to pardon U.S. service members accused of war crimes, but Pentagon officials and military leaders really hope he doesn't wield it, CNN reports.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper is reportedly expected to discuss multiple war crime cases with President Trump before Veterans Day on Nov. 11 in an attempt to get Trump to understand the severity of the allegations being waged against U.S. soldiers. Trump has reportedly ordered a review of charges against two members of the Army and is also considering restoring the rank of a former Navy SEAL who posed for a picture with a dead ISIS prisoner.

Sources told CNN that several Army and Navy leaders are worried about the possibility of the soldiers' sentences being dismissed or changed because of Trump's intervention. They're instead hoping the president allows the military's own justice system to run its course. John Kirby, a retired admiral, said if Trump "were to overuse his pardon power" there could both be lasting effects in the military judicial system and a "potential crisis of confidence in the potential countries we're operating in."

That said, Trump does have the legal authority to intervene, so Esper's efforts may prove fruitless. Though, as one anonymous official bluntly stated, "just because he can do it doesn't mean he should." Read more at CNN. Tim O'Donnell

May 7, 2019

Michael Behenna, a former first lieutenant in the United States Army, received a pardon from President Trump on Monday. Behenna was sentenced to prison in 2009 for the unpremeditated murder of an Iraqi detainee while he was on deployment in Iraq.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders highlighted the handling of Behenna's claim that the killing was done in self-defense, and called Behenna a "model prisoner" who is "entirely deserving" of the presidential pardon. Not everyone sees it that way — the American Civil Liberties Union, for example, argued Behenna had no justification for killing the unarmed prisoner. But for others, it's Trump's character and the possible political motivations that make the pardon questionable.

The Atlantic's Adam Serwer writes that the decision represents Trump's disregard for the rights of certain groups of people, particularly if those rights conflict with the will of his voting base.

Trump has not shied away from this in the past, either. In fact, he has explicitly touted the idea of killing not just enemy soldiers, but even their non-combatant families.

Meanwhile, critics like Tony Karon, an editor at AJ+, believe the pardon has deeper roots that stretch beyond Trump, which could aid in building a dangerous precedent. Tim O'Donnell

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