Washington: US President Donald Trump has cleared three service members who were involved in war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
With the presidential executive order, Trump on Friday issued for pardons for two soldiers, First Lt. Clint Lorance and Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, and reversed disciplinary action against Navy SEAL Edward R. Gallagher, Efe news quoted a White House statement as saying.
Trump has thus overturned the homicide charges against Lorance, who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for ordering his men to open fire on unarmed Afghan civilians, killing two of them in July 2012.
“Many Americans have sought executive clemency for Lorance, including 124,000 people who have signed a petition to the White House, as well as several members of Congress,” the statement said.
Golsteyn, an army officer, was set to stand trial for an alleged unlawful killing in Afghanistan 2020. He was charged last year with premeditated murder in 2010 of a suspected Taliban bomb maker who had been captured and released.
The officer has said he “shot the terrorist because he was certain that (his) bombmaking activities would continue to threaten American troops and their Afghan partners, including Afghan civilians”, said the statement.
The White House said a swift resolution to the case of Golsteyn was “in the interests of justice” and clemency was given after “broad support” for his pardon.
Gallagher, a former Chief Petty Officer, was convicted of posing with the body of a slain Islamic State fighter in Iraq.
The Navy SEAL was also charged in 2018 with opening fire on civilians in Iraq, murdering a captive militant, and threatening to kill fellow soldiers if they reported him.
He was alleged to have committed the crimes during his 2017 deployment in Iraq when he was leading a SEAL platoon as a Chief Petty Officer.
He was acquitted in July of these charges but demoted to petty officer first class for bringing disrepute to the armed forces by posing with the corpse of the captive.
Before his prosecution, the officer had been selected for promotion, awarded a Bronze Star with a “V” for valour, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor. He was stripped of these honours as he awaited his trial.
“Given his service to our nation, promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified,” the White House said.
“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.”
Trump had already been involved in the Gallagher case when, pending his trial, the president sought to transfer him to a more comfortable detention centre.
According to US media reports, the Pentagon had advised Trump against issuing clemencies for the service members because it ran a risk of undermining the military authority.
But Trump was quoted in the White House statement saying: “when our soldiers fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.”