Trump's Military Pardons Did Not Create Dishonor

Mat Golsteyn, Eddie Gallagher, and Clint Lorance benefited from the president's efforts.

Harold Hutchison · Dec. 3, 2019

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to issue pardons to First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Major Mat Golsteyn, while also commuting the sentence of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, there has been harsh criticism. One notable outlet that covers the military ran a piece declaring the pardons dishonored honorable troops. David French, an Iraq War veteran and attorney, also slammed Trump’s move, claiming it unshackled troops from the law.

For starters, let’s be clear: America needs troops who follow orders, and who do the right thing in the hellish conditions of war. Furthermore, nobody on our team denies that the Gallagher case in particular involved very disturbing allegations.

However, if we want to talk about the law, then here’s what also matters: Gallagher was acquitted of all the charges, save for one involving a selfie with a dead ISIS terrorist. Given the legitimate questions about the integrity of the prosecutors, especially after they were caught sending malware-laced emails to the Navy Times and Gallagher’s attorneys, President Trump showed remarkable restraint. Frankly, he would have been fully justified in pardoning Gallagher the day that the prosecutorial misconduct was reported.

Dishonor did not enter the Gallagher case when Trump intervened on the sentence — it entered when the prosecutors engaged in misconduct. This sort of thing creates doubt in the fairness of the process. What is worse, the Navy even awarded medals to the JAGs in the prosecution, until President Trump ordered the medals revoked.

The same thing was involved with the Golsteyn case — albeit not as blatant. Golsteyn was cleared of charges — despite efforts of the Obama administration to hang a murder rap on him. He suffered administrative reprisals, including revocation of a Silver Star and his Special Forces tab. Only now is the Army trying again, years later.

The “crime” Golsteyn committed was taking out a Taliban bomb-maker. Now, maybe it wasn’t exactly in accordance with highly restrictive rules of engagement, but then again, those who made improvised explosive devices weren’t exactly going to be carrying a weapon at the battlefront. No, their biggest weapon was the knowledge and experience they had. The IEDs they built killed and maimed American troops, and they left still more with the “invisible” wounds like traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But even then, we are again seeing questions of integrity surrounding those investigating Golsteyn. One of the investigators was caught in a “Stolen Valor” situation, and the Army prosecutors played loose with due process.

Again, President Trump’s pardon did not create dishonor. The dishonor was created when the Obama administration punished Golsteyn despite clearing him of criminal charges, and then it was compounded when an investigator stole valor, and Army prosecutors played games with Golsteyn’s due process rights.

In the case of Clint Lorance, new evidence emerged that made it more likely than not that a miscarriage of justice had occurred. There were allegations that the Army knew about that evidence but failed to hand it over. If the Army did fail to hand over exculpatory evidence, then again, dishonor didn’t come from Trump’s pardon but from the failure to observe due process requirements. Even then, absent the allegations, there is nothing dishonorable about correcting a miscarriage of justice.

Let’s imagine that some of the methods used against Golsteyn and Gallagher had been turned on the Gitmo Bar by the George W. Bush administration. All those attorneys were doing was giving al-Qaida the ability to use our legal system to hamper the Global War on Terror. Jane Fonda’s ack-ack gun photo-op is peanuts by comparison to this. But how do you think the media would react if Obama decided to issue pardons in response? Somehow, we think the coverage’s tone would be completely different than the tone surrounding Trump’s use of the pardon power.

The United States military needs to be sure that personnel follow orders. But at the same time, Americans need to be sure that all military personnel are doing the right thing. That not only applies to troops on the battlefield, though, it also applies to troops not on the battlefield, especially those charged with investigating our brave warriors.

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