The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday told the leaders of each military service that President Trump’s decision to grant clemency to U.S. service members accused of war crimes was a “serious disservice” to troops.
At an unrelated hearing on privatized military housing, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) took the opportunity to address Trump’s intervention in the war crimes cases with a witness panel that included Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
“The president has the power to pardon, but he has a responsibility to use that power wisely, not recklessly,” Reed told the witnesses.
“Some have claimed that these cases were distractions and that the president’s intervention has somehow improved the morale of our military,” Reed added. “On the contrary, President Trump’s disregard for our military justice system risks undermining the confidence of our service members in the rule of law and their chain of command – especially those who were courageous enough to bring allegations of war crimes to light and testify against their teammates.”
Last month, Trump restored the rank of Navy Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, who was convicted in the military justice system of posing with the corpse of an ISIS fighter but acquitted of murder. Trump later ordered the Navy to allow Gallagher to keep his status as a SEAL after news broke the Navy was reviewing his Trident pin.
Gallagher’s case led to the firing of former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, whom Defense Secretary Mark Esper accused of going behind his back to broker a deal with Trump on Gallagher’s SEAL status.
Trump also last month pardoned Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was serving a 19-year sentence for ordering his men to fire on three Afghans, and Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, who had been awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to murdering an Afghan man.
In his comments Tuesday, Reed warned that failure to hold U.S. personnel to “appropriate standards of conduct” increases the likelihood they “will face similar abuses on the battlefield” and makes it less likely “we will be able to hold our enemies accountable.”
“Good order and discipline are critical and time-honored traits of the United States military – not only to enable military readiness and effectiveness, but also to ensure military men and women remain firmly tethered to our nation’s moral and ethical principles in the most demanding wartime environments,” he said.
Reed also invoked the late Sen. John McCain, using a quote from a 2011 op-ed the Arizona Republican wrote against torture.
“There is no one with more credibility on these issues than the late Sen. John McCain who stated: ‘This is a moral debate. It is about who we are. I don’t mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life. What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves. Through the violence, chaos, and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss, we are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us,’” Reed said.
“That is the standard we should demand from our military men and women, and I believe the president’s interference in these cases has done them a serious disservice,” he concluded.