Opinion

For the families of former LT Clint Lorrance and Major Matthew Golsteyn, the nightmare is over and now they can try to piece together the rest of their lives.

President Trump granted yesterday full pardons to both of these former Army soldiers. The President also ordered the Navy to restore the rank of Chief Petty Officer to Navy SEAL Eddie R. Gallagher, who faced a court-martial and was cleared of murder, but had been demoted.

Lorrance was convicted of the second-degree murder of two Afghans, who he said, were preparing to attack his unit. Golsteyn, a former highly decorated Green Beret, was facing charges of murdering an Afghan bomb maker. 

The President’s decision was met with some consternation from some senior Pentagon officials including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who advised the President against making this decision because it could potentially damage the integrity of the military judicial system, the ability of military leaders to ensure good order and discipline, and the confidence of U.S. allies and partners who host U.S. troops.

The President went ahead with it anyway and I, for one, approve his decision, particularly in the case of Lorrance that I’ll get to below. 

The White House released a statement where it said, “The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted,” the statement read. 

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the President has stated, ‘when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.’ “

In the White House statement, the President also addressed the concerns about the military justice system that the Pentagon had made: specifically, that the President’s decision may undermine the military justice system. “The United States military justice system helps ensure good order and discipline for our millions of uniformed military members and holds to account those who violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Due in part to this system, we have the most disciplined, most effective, most respected, and most feared fighting force in the world.”

The President and Vice President called Lorrance early on Friday night and reportedly told him “to get his uniform.” He was released at approximately 10:30 p.m. on Friday night and was accompanied by his lawyer and members of his family. And Lorrance, was, in fact, wearing his uniform. 

After reports a week ago that the President was preparing to either pardon or disprove the findings in a court-martial case (Lorrance’s), the Pentagon was concerned about it enough to put together an information package conveying their concerns. Esper met with the president personally to try to convince him to let the decisions made through the Uniform Code of Military Justice stand.

If the President “were to overuse his pardon power and in fact release soldiers who have, in every other way, have the evidence stacked against them, there certainly could be an impact on the military judicial process going forward,” said retired admiral John Kirby.

“There could be an impact on military leaders and their ability to enact measures of good order and discipline. There also could be a potential crisis of confidence in the potential countries we’re operating in,” Kirby added.

With all due respect to the admiral and to Secretary Esper, look at the facts of the Lorrance case, or in this matter what WASN’T brought up or allowed in court. Yes, the evidence was most certainly stacked against him. He was railroaded by his own chain of command and the court cherry-picked certain evidence, while blatantly disregarding or quashing evidence that would have exonerated him. 

John Maher, an attorney for Lorrance, has said repeatedly that his client “never got a fair trial.” As we posted here and back in July when his lawyers were trying to get the president to look at his case, not all of the facts came out in his court-martial. The chain of command caved and catered to political pressure. Lorrance was fed to the wolves and spent five years in Leavenworth. 

The Pentagon is like any other large entity: they don’t like being told that they’re wrong. They are used to getting their way and in many cases, consider themselves infallible. In this case, they were wrong and President Trump righted it. While there have certainly been things I’ve personally disagreed with during his tenure, this isn’t one of them. 

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Order and discipline haven’t been undermined here. A soldier who was unjustly accused and sentenced for crimes he didn’t commit has been set free.

Several soldiers that I know and respect asked if I now believe that no U.S. soldier has committed a war crime in 18 years of war in Afghanistan. Of course not. No army ever fielded has been immune to war crimes. But in this case, these men, and especially Lorrance, should have never been charged.

Enjoy your freedom Mr. Lorrance. Sometimes the wheels of justice move too slowly. But hopefully, as in your case, they do eventually move.

Photo: Lorrance family 

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