President Donald Trump made a controversial decision on Friday evening to absolve three United States service members who were either convicted of or were facing trial for war crimes.
Trump signed an executive order granting clemency to 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was convicted of war crimes for ordering soldiers to fire on three unarmed Afghan men in 2012, killing two.
President Trump also granted clemency to Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, whose trial has yet to begin. Golsteyn was accused of killing an unarmed Afghan man in 2010 and disposing of his body in a trash pit.
Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL, will have his rank restored after being acquitted of two charges. He was found guilty of posing for a picture with a deceased enemy combatant and was accused of pre-mediated and attempted murder in a separate incident.
"The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted," the White House said on Friday. "For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country."
"These actions are in keeping with this long history," the White House added. "As the President has stated, 'when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.'"
The pardons come despite claims that President Trump's advisors had encouraged him not to get involved in the matter.
On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy had advised President Trump not to get involved in such high profile cases.
They were reportedly concerned that handing out pardons could lead to lower disciple in the United States military.
"I do have full confidence in the military justice system," Esper had previously said.
Eugene Fidell, a military justice lecturer at Yale Law School and a former US Coast Guard judge advocate, told Business Insider that President Trump has the authority to issue pardons.
"A president can grant a pardon or other form of clemency before a conviction, sentencing, trial, and indictment — but not before the offense itself," Fidell said. "The president is a convening authority by Act of Congress. The rules provide that a superior convening authority can take the case away from a subordinate convening authority and decide what to do with it."
According to CNN, the military is already implementing the orders. Lt. Clint Lorance was released from the United States Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on Friday evening.
Though some officials in the military aren't happy with the move. "This goes directly to our military culture," one official told CNN. Another official added: "We all view this possibility as undermining the authority of command" in military units.