The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, testified before the House Armed Services Committee. He was asked pointed questions about the, now-infamous, pardons issued by President Trump to three military personnel who had either been tried or were about to go on trial for war crimes in the Global War on Terror. Many are saying that these pardons handed down by the President will erode military discipline and breakdown the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
This is just the latest attempt to erode the President’s support within the military, which remains rather strong within the rank and file troops. However, an increasing number of senior officers have come out against the policies of the administration.
General Milley stood firm in his support of how the military will act moving forward, despite what several congressmen had to say on this issue. Especially involved in this was Congressman Seth Moulton, (D-MA), who was himself a Marine Corps officer.
Moulton read a statement he said he received in a text from a Marine Corps Sergeant Major, who stated that President Trump’s pardon of the three different men accused of war crimes was “appalling,” and said that this action was encouraging troops to be “burning villages and pillaging like Genghis Khan.”
Milley did address the text, and while stopping short of endorsing the President’s decision, he stood by his authority to act. He tried to point out that each of the three cases had a different set of circumstances.
He said that “I understand where the sergeant major is coming from,” Milley said. “And I know the advice that was given, which I am not going to share here. But the President of the United States is part of the process, and he has the legal authority to do what he did. And he weighed the conditions and the situation as he saw fit.”
Addressing the second part of the text, Milley was forcefully adamant that the discipline of the services was not going to fall apart. “We will not turn into a gang, raping and pillaging throughout, as the sergeant major implies,” he added. “That is not going to happen because of this or anything else.”
Congressman Moulton wasn’t done and added, “This is a Sergeant Major of the Marines who’s got a Purple Heart and a Navy Cross and we’re defending the actions of a draft dodger in our president.”
Milley shot back, “I am not defending anyone’s actions,” he said.
Moulton briefly announced a run for the presidency this year, but withdrew shortly afterward. He also was famously quoted as stating that AR-15s were the same as the M4 Assault Rifle he carried in Iraq and that no American should be able to own one.
President Trump had granted pardons to former Army Green Beret Major Matthew Golsteyn, who was accused of murder in killing an Afghan bombmaker. Golsteyn had been awarded a Silver Star from that deployment. The Star was revoked along with his Special Forces tab.
1LT Clint Lorrance was convicted of murder in ordering his men to open fire on Afghans riding a motorcycle that Lorrance claimed was an IED attack just waiting to happen. After his lawyers appealed to the President claiming, among other factors, that the Army suppressed evidence that would have been helpful to Lorrance’s defense, he too was pardoned.
And Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher was tried by court-martial for the murder of a wounded enemy ISIS insurgent, but was found innocent of those charges. Instead, he was found guilty of posing with the fighter’s dead body, was demoted a rank and had his SEAL Trident badge revoked. The President ordered his rank restored and his badge given back so that he could retire at his previous rank.
No one in Congress is arguing on whether the President has the authority — he does. They are arguing that despite him have the authority, he should not have applied it.
Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith (D-Wash.) spoke to Milley and his comments, stating, “Yes, the president is part of the process, but what we’re concerned about is the way he’s being part of the process right now is unhelpful.”
Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper also testified that in trying to limit the future footprint of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan, one option would be to shift to a narrower counterterrorism mission. Both he and Esper stated that they will be looking to narrow down the force.