While the new pardons are a stark departure from tradition, they are in line with Mr. Trump’s many statements during his campaign and in office, arguing that to beat unconventional enemies like the Taliban and ISIS, the American military should loosen the reins on how troops behave in conflict zones.
“You have to play the game the way they are playing the game,” he told NBC News in 2016.
The specific circumstances of the three men’s cases defy easy characterization. In one, a decorated captain admitted to a killing in a job interview. In the other two, platoon leaders’ illegal actions were reported not by superior officers or Pentagon lawyers, but by their own platoons.
Troops who testified in those two cases, against Lieutenant Lorance and Chief Gallagher, voiced disappointment and disbelief over Mr. Trump’s plans for clemency before they were announced.
“The tragedy of pardoning Lorance isn’t that he will be released from prison — I’ve found room for compassion there,” said Patrick Swanson, a former Army captain who was Lieutenant Lorance’s company commander in Afghanistan. “The tragedy is that people will hail him as a hero, and he is not a hero. He ordered those murders. He lied about them.”
Mr. Lorance was a rookie Army lieutenant who had been in command of a platoon in Afghanistan for two days in July 2012 when he ordered his troops to fire on unarmed villagers who posed no threat, killing two men. He then called in false reports over the radio to cover up what had happened. He was immediately turned in by his own men.
Mr. Lorance, whose story is the subject of a new documentary series, was convicted of second-degree murder by a court-martial in 2013, and he has been in prison since then, serving his sentence at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
Major Golsteyn was charged in 2018 with premeditated murder over a killing that took place in 2010, when he was a captain in the Army Special Forces leading a team during Operation Moshtarak, one of the biggest combat operations of the war in Afghanistan. He admitted in a job interview with the C.I.A. the following year that, during the battle, he had killed a suspected bomb maker who had been captured and released, saying he had done so to protect civilians and his own men.