Pentagon leaders: Trump clemencies won't affect military order and discipline

Pentagon leaders: Trump clemencies won't affect military order and discipline
© Getty Images

The Pentagon’s top general on Wednesday insisted the military would be able to maintain discipline among its forces following President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren: Dershowitz presentation 'nonsensical,' 'could not follow it' Bolton told Barr he was concerned Trump did favors for autocrats: report Dershowitz: Bolton allegations would not constitute impeachable offense MORE’s decision to intervene in three war crimes cases, which has received stiff pushback from lawmakers and sparked concern among Defense officials.

“We do maintain and we will maintain good order and discipline. We will not turn into a gang of raping, burning and pillaging throughout ... That is not going to happen as a result of this or anything else,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said before the House Armed Services Committee.

Milley’s comments came after Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonThe DCCC's 'blacklist' protects a white male political status quo Moulton endorses Biden's presidential bid Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers MORE (D-Mass.) pressed him to respond to criticisms he’s heard from within the military over Trump last month granting clemency to Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, pardoning Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and waiving charges against Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn.

ADVERTISEMENT

Gallagher this summer was acquitted of killing a wounded Islamic State captive but convicted of posing for a picture with the corpse and was reduced in rank, while Lorance in 2013 was convicted of second degree murder for ordering his men to fire on three unarmed Afghan men on a motorcycle. He had served six years of his 19-year prison sentence when he was pardoned.

Golsteyn, meanwhile, was a former Green Beret who was charged with murder in the death of an Afghan man during a deployment to the country in 2010. He faced trial next year.

The pardons were controversial among Pentagon leaders, with widespread reports that they privately opposed the moves, as they upend the process of the military justice system and could send a message to troops that they don’t need to follow rules of engagement when fighting abroad.

Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, recounted a text message from a Marine sergeant major, who told him Trump involving himself in the cases is “’appalling, basically setting a precedent that the rule of law in a combat zone doesn't apply and encourages folks to start burning villages and pillaging like Genghis Khan. ... The man has greatly marginalized the positions of the service leaders.’”

“Is this sergeant major of the Marines wrong?” Moulton asked.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I think that the uniformed code of military justice and the means by which we maintain good order and discipline are a critical element in order to maintain that capability and some level of humanity in combat zones,” Milley replied.

“I understand where the sergeant major’s coming from and I know the advice that was given, which I’m not going to share here, but the president of the United States is part of the process and he has the legal authorities to do what he did, and he weighed the conditions and the situation as he saw fit."

Moulton retorted that “this is a sergeant major of the Marines who’s got a Purple Heart and a Navy Cross and we’re defending the actions of a draft dodger in our president.”

“I am not defending anyone’s actions,” Milley replied.

Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall MORE (D-Wash.) then cut in, noting that, “Yes, the president is part of the process, but what we’re concerned about is, the way he’s being part of the process right now is unhelpful, as Mr. Moulton describes.”

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: US military jet crashes in Afghanistan | Rocket attack hits US embassy in Baghdad | Bolton bombshell rocks impeachment trial Overnight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  MORE, who spoke alongside Milley, declined to answer when asked if Gallagher should be labeled as a “war criminal.”

“I’d have to review the crime he was charged with,” Esper said.