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Trump's pardon of officials raises fears that martial law will not apply

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.

But many in the military, especially in military legal circles, do not celebrate. Trump's committee, issued against the advice of the Supreme Defense Attorney, was seen as a sign of breach not only of the decisions of military juries, but of the judicial process itself.

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.

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.

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.

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