The U.S. military will not disintegrate into an undisciplined horde following President Donald Trump's recent intervention in three war crimes cases, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley assured lawmakers on Wednesday.
Milley was testifying before the House Armed Services Committee when he was pressed by Iraq war veteran Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) about the president's actions in the cases of former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, retired Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, and retired Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher.
Moulton, who served in the Marine Corps, told Milley that he had received a text from a Marine sergeant major, who argued that Trump had set a precedent that the rule of law does not apply in combat zones and he had encouraged troops to “start burning villages and pillaging like Genghis Khan.”
“Is this sergeant major of Marines wrong?” Moulton asked.
Milley said the Uniform Code of Military Justice is one of the tools that the military uses to “maintain that capability and some level of humanity in combat zones.”
“I understand where the sergeant major is coming from and I know the advice that was given, which I'm not going to share here,” Milley said. “But the president of the United States is part of the process and he has the legal authorities to do what he did and he weighed the condition and the situation as he saw fit. He is part of the process.”
“We do maintain and we will maintain good order and discipline,” Milley continued. “We will not turn into a gang of raping, burning, and pillaging throughout – as the sergeant major implies. That is not going to happen.”
Moulton interrupted Milley to say the Marine sergeant major is Navy Cross and Purple Heart recipient “and we're defending the actions of a draft dodger.”
Committee chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) ended the exchange by saying lawmakers understood the president is commander-in-chief but they objected to how Trump is being part of the process.
On Nov. 15, Trump pardoned former Lorance, who had been convicted of murder for ordering his men to open fire at three unarmed Afghan men, two of whom were killed. The president also ordered that a murder charge be dismissed against Golsteyn, who had admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man whom be believed to be a Taliban bomb maker.
Trump also ordered that Gallagher's rank and pay grade be restored to chief petty officer. Gallagher had been acquitted of murder but convicted of posing for a picture with an ISIS fighter's corpse. That conviction still stands.