Don Brown: Military men who got Trump clemency – Lorance, Golsteyn & Gallagher – are heroes, NOT war criminals

President Trump has been wrongly attacked in the media and by some Pentagon officials for granting pardons earlier this month to Army Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Matt Golsteyn, and for reversing the demotion of Navy Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher and allowing Gallagher to retire as a SEAL.

Lorance, Golsteyn and Gallagher are brave patriots who volunteered to defend our nation in war zones and risked their lives under enemy fire to carry out their dangerous missions.

Yet instead of being hailed for being the heroes they are, Lorance, Golsteyn and Gallagher have been vilified in much of the media as war criminals or accused war criminals.


Nothing could be further from the truth.

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I am a former Navy attorney in the Judge Advocate Corps and was one of Lorance’s defense lawyers. I can tell you that there is no offense called “war crimes” in our nation’s Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“War crimes” are reserved for Geneva Convention offenses and are tied to crimes against humanity. The most notorious war crimes prosecutions involve one common characteristic – the mass execution of innocent civilians, not the killing of enemy combatants.

The Nazi murderers who slaughtered 6 million Jews and millions of others are history’s most infamous war criminals. Other war criminals include Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Cambodian leader Pol Pot.

While they were never charged as war criminals, Soviet leader Josef Stalin and Chinese leader Mao Zedong were clearly mass murderers of innocent civilians, responsible for the deaths of millions of their own countrymen.


Not a single war criminal prosecuted either in the Nuremberg trials or the Tokyo war crimes tribunal after World War II – or the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia – faced charges for snap-judgment decisions on a battlefield like Lorance and Golsteyn faced.

War crimes are planned and calculated to kill mass populations. A split-second decision on the battlefield to save American lives is not a war crime.

Lorance and Golsteyn made battlefield decisions to open fire against perceived enemy combatants – not against civilians.  If they had not done so, they and their men might have been killed years ago and the enemy combatants could have lived another day to kill more Americans.

Neither Lorance, Gallagher nor Golsteyn was ever accused of participating in the mass extermination of populations – the common characteristic of real war criminals.

How can any American prefer to see more American troops brought home in coffins so more terrorist killers of Americans can live?

Lorance’s men fired on motorcycle riders who turned out to be enemy combatants threatening his platoon. Golsteyn killed a Taliban bomb-maker who killed Americans.

Lorance was found guilty of second-degree murder and spent the past six years in a military prison. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison, but was released after President Trump pardoned him Nov. 15. Golsteyn was awaiting trial on a murder charge before Trump pardoned him the same day.

Both Lorance and Golsteyn operated in hotly contested battle zones where American lives were at risk.

In Navy SEAL Gallagher’s case, a military jury acquitted him of murder – a fact that must be emphasized – but he was convicted of the lesser charge of posing for a photo with a dead ISIS fighter.

Imagine if you or a loved one were in in combat, not knowing if a moment from now you would wind up grievously wounded and disabled for life – or dead. Would you not defend yourself? Would you not want your loved one to do the same?

And what kind of message do we send to U.S. troops in harm’s way today and in the future by making them fear military prosecution and potentially years of prison time from defending themselves and their fellow soldiers, sailors airmen and Marines? Will they hesitate to defend themselves – and die as a result? Is this what we really want?

Neither Lorance, Gallagher nor Golsteyn was ever accused of participating in the mass extermination of populations – the common characteristic of real war criminals. Instead, these three heroic service members targeted the enemies of the United States – the type of savages who burn men in cages, decapitate Christians on the beaches or Libya, or fly planes into the World Trade Center.

We sent these three military men to far-off lands to defeat our armed enemies in war. This put these Americans in kill-or-be-killed situations where their job was to eliminate enemy forces.

The media bantering about “war crimes” and “war criminals” manifests an intellectual laziness and dishonest manipulation by journalists sitting safely at their computers, writing about members of our military who know that one wrong decision in combat can be fatal.

Categorizing Lorance, Gallagher and Golsteyn alongside real war criminals like the Nazis convicted in the Nuremberg trials underscores a deep-seated anti-Americanism and hostility to our military by the left.

But facts matter, and the truth still prevails, with or without the left-wing media’s sensationalistic machinations.

If the media so critical of Trump for his actions on Lorance, Gallagher and Golsteyn want to do the country a service, they should examine the inexcusable prosecutorial overreach that occurred in all three of their cases.

The media should defend the civil liberties of every American – including members of the U.S military. Just like civilians, members of the military are entitled to a presumption of innocence and a fair trial when accused of crimes. They don’t give up their right to justice when they put on the uniform.

In the Lorance case, Army prosecutors withheld crucial biometrics evidence from the original defense team that showed Lorance’s men killed the enemy – not innocent farmers, as the prosecution falsely portrayed. When that evidence emerged, the Army kept Lorance locked up in prison for years before Trump acted. Shame on the Army. And shame on more in the media for not calling the Army out.

In Gallagher's case, Navy prosecutors actually spied on his defense lawyers – an affront to the U.S. Constitution and precious civil liberties to be guarded for every American.

Where are the editorials from The Washington Post and New York Times decrying such prosecutorial overreach? Why no editorial demands to clean up corruption in the military justice system?


These questions remain rhetorical, because propagandists in the left-wing media are more interested in criticizing President Trump for everything he does and serving their political aims than exposing the institutional corruption in the military threatening our civil liberties.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we pray that one day, at some future Thanksgiving, we can give thanks for a mainstream media committed to intellectual honesty and a renewed defense of civil liberties, regardless of who benefits politically. But that day does not loom anytime soon.

Now Clint Lorance, Matt Golsteyn and Eddie Gallagher will be able to enjoy Thanksgiving in freedom with their families this week – just as millions of the rest of us will be doing, thanks to members of our military who step forward to defend our liberties and our way of life.


Americans owe a debt of gratitude to President Trump for standing up for these fine men and standing up for justice. Thank you, Mr. President.

God bless America.