President Donald Trump Friday afternoon restored Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher’s rank and pardoned two other service members accused of war crimes, overruling the military justice system that investigated them.
Trump issued the order in the afternoon, using his ultimate authority over the military to make Gallagher a Chief Petty Officer again and restoring his pay for retirement purposes.
He also absolved Army Maj. Mathew Goldsteyn, who faced a murder trial, and 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was sentenced in 2013 to 20 years in prison for ordering his men to shoot unarmed Afghan civilians in 2012.
Gallagher was a chief petty officer who deployed several times in the Middle East. After his time in Iraq, several of his Navy SEAL teammates came forward with eyewitness allegations that led to criminal charges.
He was charged with murder for allegedly stabbing to death a wounded Islamic State fighter in his care in 2017, and he was charged with shooting at unarmed civilians. Prosecutors also said he tried to intimidate witnesses.
In July, Gallagher was acquitted of most charges against him. One witness testified that he — not Gallagher — killed the wounded fighter.
Gallagher was convicted of one count for appearing in a photo with the fighter’s body. He was demoted from chief petty officer to petty officer 1st class, or from E-7 to E-6.
Gallagher has benefited from persistent national support from conservative news media and from Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Duncan Hunter, who called for his acquittal and afterward for a pardon.
President Trump has intervened before in Gallagher’s case. Prior to his court martial trial, Trump ordered Gallagher removed from the brig.
The White House statement Friday noted that before Gallagher’s prosecution, the Special Warfare Operator First Class had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, was awarded a Bronze Star with a “V” for valor, and was assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor.
“Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome,” the White House statement said. “Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified.”
Lorance was convicted of ordering his men to open fire on unarmed Afghan civilians, killing two. Lorance had just taken over his platoon and several of his soldiers testified against him at trial.
His sentenced was later reduced by one year.
Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret, has not been tried for his role in the murder of a suspected Afghan bomb-maker in 2010. The Army investigated the killing at the time but could not find enough evidence to prosecute him.
However, in 2016, Golsteyn admitted to the killing during an interview on Fox News. Golsteyn is accused of shooting the bomb-maker off base, burying the remains, then digging up the body and burning it in a trash pit.
Golsteyn’s court-martial was scheduled for Dec. 2 at Fort Bragg, N.C. He had pleaded not guilty.
The White House statement said Trump believes in providing second chances to service members.
“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, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted. 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.”
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