Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases

Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday told the leaders of each military service that President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE’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 ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedGabbard calls for congressional inquiry over Afghanistan war report Gillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers' Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members MORE (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 McCarthyRyan McCarthyRepublicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases MORE, 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.

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“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 EsperMark EsperHillicon Valley: Pentagon pushes back on Amazon lawsuit | Lawmakers dismiss Chinese threat to US tech companies | YouTube unveils new anti-harassment policy | Agencies get annual IT grades Overnight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons Pentagon dismisses Amazon questions over Esper's recusal in 'war cloud' case MORE 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.”

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“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 McCainJohn Sidney McCainBudowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? Sharice Davids to vote for Trump impeachment articles: 'The facts are uncontested' Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE, 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.