After Gallagher, Military Activists Lobby Trump to Intervene in These Other Cases

President Donald Trump pardoned Michael Behenna, an Army lieutenant convicted of the fatal shooting of an Iraqi man detained by American forces, in May.

Next came the pardons of Clint Lorance, an Army lieutenant who was serving a 19-year sentence for the murder of two Afghan civilians, and Major Mathew L. Golsteyn, an Army Special Forces officer who was set to face murder charges on Dec. 2 for killing an unarmed Afghan he believed was a Taliban bomb maker.

Then, there's Edward Gallagher—a special operations chief petty officer convicted of posing for photos with the body of a deceased fighter. While Trump has not pardoned the Navy SEAL, he has weighed into the military process by restoring Gallagher to his present rank and prevented Defense Department officials from holding a disciplinary hearing that could have stripped Gallagher of his Trident pin—the device signaling his membership in the elite SEAL community.

The rare public dispute between Trump and senior Pentagon leadership over Gallagher led to the resignation of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer—and the CEO of an organization that has helped bankroll and influence the recent presidential interventions tells Newsweek these may not be the last pardons to come out of the Oval Office.

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"I think what we're seeing now is the tip of the iceberg, and United American Patriots is supporting those warriors who have been improperly accused of war crimes and unjustly convicted," said retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel David "Bull" Gurfein, the chairman and CEO of United American Patriots, in a phone call with Newsweek on Monday.

TrumpPardon_25Nov2019
U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a Change of Command ceremony as Admiral Karl Schultz takes over from Admiral Paul Zukunft as the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC, June 1, 2018. Since taking office, President Trump has issued three pardons to service members accused of war crimes and prevented Defense Department officials from holding a disciplinary hearing to decide whether a Navy SEAL should be stripped of their Trident—the warfare device signaling their membership in the elite SEAL community. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

The non-profit charity which funds legal support for troops accused of war crimes was founded by retired Marine Major Bill Donahue after he disagreed with the treatment of U.S. Marines accused of murdering nearly two dozen people—among them women and children—in Haditha, Iraq, before their trials in 2005.

Among the cases the non-profit wants to present to the Trump administration is one that involves a convicted Army National Guard infantryman who shot and killed an unarmed Afghan man during a 2010 interrogation in the Laghman province of Afghanistan.

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Derrick Miller was sentenced to life at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, but six years later, Miller's sentence was reduced; he was paroled in May. He now works for the Justice for Warriors caucus out of the office of Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Louisiana. The caucus of House Republicans boasts members such as Representative Duncan Hunter of California and Steve King of Iowa.

"These cases were brought up in front of President Obama and they wouldn't get any attention. And with President Trump, he's at least reviewing these cases and he's able to see where there is tremendous unlawful command influence, prosecutorial misconduct and investigator abuse," said Gurfein.

He added: "We're pushing for Sergeant Derrick Miller to have a disapproval of findings and sentence and we're funding that and pushing very hard. We should see some motion in the next couple of months."

Eight years ago, Miller was found guilty of premeditated murder in the 2010 death of an unarmed Afghan civilian in Laghman province, located in Eastern Afghanistan.

At trial, two witnesses said the Afghan civilian had strayed past a security perimeter, and Miller stopped him for questioning. Moments later, Miller had the Afghan on the ground and yelled that he was going to kill him if he didn't stop lying about what he was doing at the outpost.

The witnesses said Miller, who was on his third combat deployment in four years, then shot the Afghan civilian in the head and dragged his body to a latrine. The defense team and Miller's advocates maintain that the Afghan civilian was, in fact, a Taliban scout and Miller had pulled the trigger in self-defense when the man attempted to steal Miller's sidearm.

Gurfein told Newsweek that Miller actually saved lives because when the National Guardsman shot the man, it caused other members of his unit to be alert when less than an hour later, they were attacked by Taliban militants.

Another case involves John E. Hatley, an Army first sergeant reduced to the rank of private and serving a 40-year sentence for the execution-style murders of four Iraqi detainees. Hatley has maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

In March 2007, Hatley, a Bronze Star recipient, was the most senior noncommissioned officer of his infantry unit—Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment out of Fort Riley, Kansas.

Hatley was on a vehicle patrol in a sector of Baghdad, Iraq, where the unit had experienced frequent attacks by insurgents and where two of his fellow Army soldiers—Staff Sergeant Karl O. Soto-Pinedo and Specialist Marieo Guerrero—had been killed in the weeks prior to the incident that would ultimately send him to prison.

The vehicle patrol came under fire but during the engagement, Army soldiers tracked several men fleeing to a nearby building, according to court documents reviewed by Newsweek.

The infantry soldiers of Alpha Company searched the building and detained four adult males and uncovered a cache of firearms and assorted munitions, including a sniper rifle and other weapons commonly used in the region.

The men, weapons and ammunition were photographed and soon after, the four Iraqi detainees were handcuffed, blindfolded and placed in the back of a Bradley fighting vehicle to be taken to a detention operations center.

According to court documents submitted to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, Hatley allegedly complained to his fellow soldiers that the detention operations center would probably release the detained Iraqis and said that they would "take care of" them. He later became irate when a soldier informed their command outpost that the patrol had taken detainees.

The patrol briefly returned to the outpost but later went back to the area where the patrol had been attacked. Court documents claim Hatley asked for volunteers to help him "take care" of the detainees—two agreed, several others did not.

The three soldiers then allegedly removed the four detainees from the Bradley fighting vehicle and lined the men up at the edge of the canal. Hatley, along with Sergeant First Class Joseph P. Mayo and Sergeant Michael P. Leahy Jr., shot each of the men in the back of the head, removed their handcuffs and pushed their bodies into the water.

Gurfein said Mayo and Leahy's testimony against Hatley was questionable and they were looking to cut a deal as they were facing disciplinary action for other crimes. Hatley's supporters claim the soldiers were eager to make a deal with prosecutors.

One factor that has kept Hatley behind bars for 11 years is his refusal to admit to the crime.

"The problem is that there is absolutely zero hard physical evidence to prove that this actually happened," Gurfein told Newsweek. "The criminal investigators actually went to the location, they couldn't find any blood spatter. Then they went into the canal and they dredged the canal and they put divers in the canal. They couldn't find any bodies. Moreover, they couldn't find any bullets, any casings, any remnants, anything to prove that a crime had happened."

Gurfein told Newsweek that Hatley was awarded parole but that he will remain at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas for another year. The group is attempting to have him released sooner.

Since Trump first entered office, the cases involving Hatley and Miller have garnered the attention of conservative media pundits such as Sean Hannity of Fox News and Pamela Geller, the far-right anti-Muslim political activist.

But Trump's recent pardons and his intervention in Gallagher's case have fueled fierce debate within the military and veteran communities, galvanizing some current and former U.S. military officers to speak out against the president on social media or on condition of anonymity.

Eric Mayer, a former Army officer and West Point graduate whose law firm specializes in U.S. military case law, told Newsweek earlier this year that in pardoning Behenna, who was also supported by United American Patriots, Trump made a mockery of the process by which the U.S. military secures convictions.

"This was a clear violation, a clear war crime," Mayer said, "but look at the procedure...Behenna was not being judged by people from a jury pool. He was being judged by individuals who were career Army officers, people who knew the rule of law and have dedicated their lives to the profession of arms. So it's a complete disregard for the judgment of those leaders who were put there to hear all the evidence and decided whether somebody was a murderer or not...[The pardon] is a complete second guess and basically says their perspective meant nothing," Mayer said.

Gurfein says the divide among service members and veterans over Trump's pardons is based on a lack of information.

"The key to understanding where United American Patriots falls out is not whether or not these individuals are guilty or innocent, it's that they deserve to have their rights protected even if, at the end of the day, they're found guilty; they must have their rights protected," Gurfein told Newsweek.

He added: "When people say, 'oh, this person is a murderer,' and 'the president is letting murderers go,' that's not necessarily the case. The individuals were either inappropriately charged, they were unlawfully convicted and the president is trying to right this wrong and the president is saying the constitution and our individual rights are paramount even over an individual doing something wrong."

After Gallagher, Military Activists Lobby Trump to Intervene in These Other Cases | U.S.