President Trump granted full pardons for two US soldiers accused of war crimes Friday and promoted a Navy SEAL who was acquitted in the stabbing death of a wounded prisoner in Iraq.
Trump had been known to be mulling over a decision to grant a pardon to a number of service members accused of crimes while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, issuing the order Friday after the end of the first week of impeachment hearings.
The pardons included Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, who was convicted of ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed men in Afghanistan, and Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, who admitted to killing an unarmed man in Afghanistan after the man had been identified as a possible bomb maker.
"The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted," read a statement from the White House announcing the pardons and promotion. "As the President has stated, 'When our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.'"
Trump also promoted Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who was accused of a series of crimes in Iraq, including shooting a young girl walking along a riverbank and an older man with a sniper's rifle and stabbing to death a wounded prisoner, but was acquitted of murder and attempted murder charges in July.
Gallagher was charged with more than a dozen crimes regarding his eighth deployment to Iraq, where his behavior there had alarmed colleagues so much that they asked to meet with their top troop commander to raise concerns, according to a report obtained by the New York Times.
Gallagher was convicted of a single charge of posing with a dead body of an ISIS fighter. He had been selected for promotion to senior chief, but it was put on hold during his trial.
On Friday, the president promoted him to the grade of E-7, the rank he held before he was acquitted of most charges.
"Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Office is justified," the White House said in a statement.
Investigators alleged that members of his own platoon were so disturbed by his behavior that they at one point tampered with his rifle to make it less accurate, or fired warning shots before Gallagher had a chance to shoot.
In another instance, Gallagher allegedly walked up to an injured enemy fighter who appeared to be in his teens. The fighter was being treated by a SEAL medic when the veteran allegedly stabbed the teen several times with a handmade knife without warning.
Gallagher denied the charges.
On Friday, Trump also issued a pardon for Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret who admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man in 2010 after a tribal leader identified him as a bomb maker responsible for killing two Marines.
The Washington Post reported that Golsteyn took the man off their base, shot him, and buried his body in a shallow grave. Later that day, Golsteyn and two other soldiers returned to the burial site and burned the man's remains.
Golsteyn had allegedly admitted to the killing during a polygraph while applying for a job with the CIA, sparking a military investigation that led to him being stripped of a valor award and his Special Forces tab.
No charges were filed at the time, but the incident came under another round of scrutiny after Golsteyn admitted to the killing again, this time during an interview on Fox News in 2016.
Golsteyn's case later caught the attention of conservative groups, including California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, who has been outspoken about the case, and Trump, who vowed in December to review the case of a "U.S. Military Hero."
The second pardon was issued for Army Lt. Clint Lorance, who was found guilty in 2013 of second-degree murder for ordering his men to open fire on three unarmed people on a motorcycle in Afghanistan, killing two.
Lorance was sentenced to 19 years.
A petition to have Lorance pardoned generated more than 124,000 signatures, according to the White House.
"Under the difficult circumstances and prioritizing the lives of American troops, Lorance ordered his men to engage," the White House said.
Friday's pardons are not the first time Trump has issued controversial reprieves of soldiers accused of committing violent crimes during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly those whose stories have been featured in conservative media.
In May, Trump issued a pardon for Army First Lt. Michael Behenna from Oklahoma, who served five years for killing an Iraqi man in 2008.
Behenna claimed he shot the man in self-defense after the suspected terrorist threw a piece of concrete and reached for his gun, but a military court found him guilty of "unpremeditated murder in a combat zone." He was released on parole in 2014.