House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) expressed support for President Donald Trump’s decision to grant pardons to two U.S. servicemen accused of war crimes, saying that it could improve troop morale.
Trump granted clemency to Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Army Major Mathew Golsteyn last Friday despite concerns that it could undermine the military justice system. He also signed an order restoring the rank of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher.
During an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Scalise offered his support for Trump’s decision to grant pardon to the men, saying that instead, it helps address longtime concerns and boost the morale of military members who have felt sidelined when defending themselves on the battlefield.
“I think … morale is much higher amongst troops I’ve heard from because this has been a concern,” Scalise said. “I’ve heard from our men and women in uniform for years that they felt that they were sidelined because they needed a team of attorneys before they could return fire in the battlefield.”
He said some of the people who were killed in these incidents were “terrorists, bomb-making terrorists.” Yet, the military members come back and face harsh punishment “for killing a terrorist in the battlefield.”
“I think there have been a lot of concerns expressed over the years that many of our men and women in uniform that were out battling terrorists in the battlefield were being put in a position where they had to think about whether or not if they returned fire if they defended themselves,” he added.
One of the pardoned men, Golsteyn, a former Green Beret, was accused of murdering an alleged terrorist bomb-maker during a deployment in Afghanistan in 2010. Golsteyn pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Meanwhile, Lorance was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2013 for ordering his troops to fire at three men riding motorcycles toward them at unusual speeds. Two of three men were killed in the incident. He has served 6 of the 19 years he was sentenced for the conviction.
Gallagher, on the other hand, was tried and cleared on charges for killing a wounded ISIS terrorist but was demoted after the same jury convicted him for posing with a photo of the dead militant. Gallagher’s rank was restored before he was tried and found not guilty of the charges against him.
Trump received mixed reactions for his decision to pardon the men, with critics saying that the decision sends a message of disrespect for the law and military justice system.
But in the White House statement on Friday, press secretary Stephanie Grisham said: “presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country” for more than 200 years.
“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,’” she said.
A Pentagon spokesperson told Reuters that the department is confident in the military justice system.
“The President is part of the military justice system as the Commander-in-Chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature,” the spokesperson said in the statement.