'Action is imminent.' Trump to intervene in two military war crimes cases

Jack Murphy
November 05, 2019 - 12:02 pm
Court Martial training in Alabama

DVIDs, Photo by Sgt. Jeremy Dunkle

Pete Hegseth of Fox News recently said on air, "I was able to confirm yesterday from the President of the United States himself, the commander-in-chief, that action is immanent especially in the two cases of Clint Lorance and Matt Golsteyn, and also restoring the rank of Eddie Gallagher." Hegseth went on to say that from his understanding the President was not going to issue a pardon, which would imply guilt, but rather dismiss the two cases entirely. Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher previously went to court-martial for the alleged murder of an ISIS detainee but was acquitted of the most egregious charges. 

Lt. Lorance is currently serving a 19-year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth after being convicted of illegally ordering one of his soldiers to open fire on civilians in Afghanistan. Members of his platoon testified against him at his court-martial stating that the Afghans posed no threat to them. The 82nd Airborne Division officer was only with his platoon for five days and was still convicted not just for the two murders but also for intimidating and threatening locals and ordering one of his men in a guard tower to shoot near civilians.

The soldier later refused Lorance's order to shoot when he told him to fire near children. Lorance then asked another soldier to falsify a report saying that villagers attacked their base. He was also convicted on an obstruction of justice charge for lying about the slaying of the two Afghan civilians in an attempt to cover up what really happened.

Maj. Matt Golsteyn served with 3rd Special Forces Group and while applying for a job at the CIA he had a mandatory polygraph test for security screening. While on the polygraph, he allegedly confessed to executing a suspected Taliban bomb maker in Afghanistan in 2010. Golsteyn allegedly told the CIA polygrapher that he buried the body but returned later with two others soldiers, dug up the body, and burned it in the burn pit on their Forward Operating Base.

Golsteyn had both a silver star from that deployment as well as his Special Forces tab revoked, but his case remained in legal limbo. In 2016, Golsteyn did an interview on Fox News in which he admitted to a version of the events being investigated including the killing of the suspected bomb maker. The Army then opened a new investigation. His court-martial is currently scheduled for December 2nd.

Back in May, President Trump pardoned Army Lt. Michael Behenna who was convicted for the murder of Iraqi national Ali Mansur Mohamed in 2008. At the time, there were also reports that President Trump was considering a pardon for Chief Gallagher and a Blackwater contractor, timed to coincide with Memorial Day, but this course of action was decided against due to push back from veterans and veteran advocacy groups, not to mention negative media coverage.

At the time, former Marine Corps commandant Charles Krulak told the LA Times, "if President Trump issues indiscriminate pardons of individuals accused—or convicted by their fellow service members—of war crimes, he relinquishes the United States’ moral high ground and undermines the good order and discipline critical to winning on the battlefield."

As Veteran's Day approaches, the issue of Presidential pardons or dismissals for convicted and alleged war criminals has again reared its head.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, began after the Civil War and was a day of remembrance of fallen soldiers. Americans would use this day to visit the graves of fallen soldiers and decorate them with flags or flowers. Later, it became Memorial Day and Congress made it an official federal holiday in 1968. Veteran's Day started off as Armistice Day in celebration of the end of World War I. Unlike Memorial Day, Veteran's Day is a tribute to living veterans who served their country honorably.

Neither holiday has previously celebrated service members alleged or convicted of war crimes. 

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Reach Jack Murphy: jack@connectingvets.com or @JackMurphyRGR.