Army First Lt. Clint Lorance on Friday changed from the ugly inmate's uniform he had been wearing for six years and left the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to a free man. He arrived a few minutes later at a nearby hotel, where his family swallowed him in a group embrace, crying tears of joy.
"I want to say thank you to President Trump," he said in the midst of a lot of well-being. "And I want the rest of the country to do that, too."
On Friday, the President cleared Lieutenant Lorance and two other officers who were accused or convicted of war crimes and delayed thousands of supporters who said the men had been unfairly punished for decisions taken in the confusion of the war.
Military officials publicly accepted the president's order – forgiveness for May. Matt cut Golsteyn of the Army Special Forces and Lieutenant Lorance, and a death reduction for Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs – with an oblique yessir.
"We recognize his order and are implementing it," the Navy's communications chief said on Twitter.
However, many were concerned that Trump's actions could erode the discipline by sending a message to troops and commanders that the laws of war would not apply in some cases.
"It's just institutionally harmful," said Rachel VanLandingham, a retired flight attendant colonel and former judge who now teaches law at Southwestern Law School. "This is not about these three individuals, it is about the entire military justice system and whether that system itself is of any value to the military's operations."
The president, she added, "says he knows best."
While all three men were charged with war crimes, the details in their case raised various concerns about military order.
Lieutenant Lorance was convicted at the trial and ordered the shooting of a group of civilians in Afghanistan, an order he then sought to cover, and he was fully forgiven.
Chief Gallagher was charged with the murder of a prisoner in Iraq but acquitted this summer of all charges except for the minor charge pose for a photo with a corpse.
Major Golsteyn was awaiting trial on charges of murdering an unarmed Afghan in 2010.
"Golsteyn is the most worrying, since the system never got a chance to work," he said Charles Dunlap, a retired Major General who was Deputy Attorney General of the Air Force and is now Head of Duke University's Center for Law, Ethics and National Securit y.
"A court battle is the best way to establish facts," he added. "We could never find out whether the facts would clear Golsteyn or not."
Many senior military leaders felt the pardons sent the wrong message, says Phillip Carter, a veteran of the Iraq War who is investigating military issues at RAND Corporation.
"Since Vietnam, the leadership has sent a message that there is a link between discipline, respect for martial law and military efficiency," Carter said. "The pardons send another message that sometimes the laws get in the way."
Mr. Trump is not the first commander to exercise the power of independence in a polarizing way.
Washington pardoned men convicted of treason in the 1791-94 Whiskey Uprising despite protests from other federalists, said Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Louis. Thomas in Minnesota.
President Abraham Lincoln repeatedly pardoned soldiers who were sentenced to death for fate, though his generals warned that it would undermine the battlefield's discipline. President Gerald Ford announced in 1974 at a meeting with the veterans of foreign wars that he planned to forgive 13,000 growers and draft dodgers, which did not go well with the war veteran's audience. His successor, Jimmy Carter, unconditionally pardoned hundreds of thousands of draft evaders.
"It has happened after every war," Osler said. “Forgiveness is used as a way to forgive the crime and heal the nation. What is different now is that the signal here seems to be to embrace the crime, not to forgive it. President Trump seems to be sending a message that the gloves are off, that we will not limit our military. "
Reactions from combat veterans were shared. Many thanked the President for intervening on behalf of men who had voluntarily served and protected their country. Others said that the gesture of forgiveness deserved the service of troops who served under the same annoying conditions, but did not break the laws of war.
"This is a sad day for the tens of thousands of us who led troops in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan who were proud of the way we maintained our good order and discipline for many challenges," said Andrew Exum, a former Army for special forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on Twitter. "These men, now forgiven, remain a disgrace to our joints."
However, for other veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan, the forgiveness only provided bleak memories of violence and a counterinsurgency cytology that often blurred moral lines.
Jorge Rodriguez was a Marine infantryman deployed to Afghanistan in 2008. Now a Texas police officer, he remembered one day in southern Afghanistan when, as a Lance Corporal, his machine gun shot at two men who were fleeing a nearby village on a motorcycle – a village that the commanders had said did not contain any civilians.
Like indefinite murders in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was never reported as questionable and never investigated.
The bodies were left at the roadside 50 meters from his small outpost for weeks. They were young, said Mr. Rodriguez, and today he doesn't know if they were Taliban fighters or not.
"It was war," he said. "And people will never understand what they had asked us to do."
Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt contributed to reports from Washington.