This past November, President Trump issued pardons for two convicted war criminals, Major Mathew Golsteyn and First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, and reversed the demotion of another, Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher (of no relation to this here scribe).
Made in the midst of impeachment buildup, the decision caused a firestorm in the military and in veterans’ communities — proponents saw it as evidence that the president was honoring his recurring pledge to “love our military.” Detractors argued that it was an act of political opportunism, one that both attacked the military justice system and normalized the abnormal for a citizenry largely removed from the realities of modern war.
Why yes, dear reader, I am one of those detractors.
The theme of this March-April issue is “Health.” Because I’m a contrarian pain in the ass, I saw this as an opportunity to explore the unhealthy nature of these recent presidential pardons. Our republic is unwell, and these pardons do not help.
No one was more responsible for these three servicemembers’ cases getting the attention of the president than Pete Hegseth, an Iraq war veteran and weekend Fox & Friends host best known for talking to average joes in diners.
Before washing up on the shores of Fox News Island, Hegseth fronted a Koch brothers-funded veterans’ organization and advocated for the privatization of VA health care. Through those connections and a mutual distaste for normal D.C. operations, Hegseth gained the president’s ear. When the nonprofit military justice advocacy group United American Patriots approached Hegseth with their cases, it was only a matter of time before Hegseth in turn brought them to the White House.
During the slow, often public march toward the pardons, Hegseth hosted the spouses of the war criminals on Fox & Friends and made the case that, “The benefit of the doubt should go to the guys pulling the trigger.” Which is a compelling argument, at least in a vacuum, as anyone who’s operated in the messy grays of combat is inclined to grant. I sure am.
Except, well, almost no one involved in these situations actually pulled a fucking trigger, Hegseth. There’s little messy gray involved in these cases, but a whole lot of black and white. Let’s tackle these pardons and their corresponding details one at a time, shall we?
Lieutenant Lorance: On day three as a platoon leader in combat, this former military policeman gave soldiers under his command the order to shoot at three local men on a motorcycle.
After initially balking and missing the men (perhaps on purpose), the soldiers followed the order. Two of the three Afghans were killed. Lorance subsequently issued a false report about the incident. Nine members of his platoon testified against him at his court-martial, and his company commander, Patrick Swanson, recently said, “The tragedy is that people will hail him as a hero, and he is not a hero. He ordered those murders. He lied about them.” Did Hegseth call this guy “a hero” on Fox News? You know it!
Chief Petty Officer Gallagher: Where to begin? Gallagher had a long, distinguished career in the SEALs, and was decorated for valor multiple times. On his eighth deployment in 2017, during the aftermath of an airstrike in Mosul, Gallagher allegedly executed a wounded teenage ISIS fighter with his knife.