WASHINGTON - The war crimes case against a Navy SEAL that drew the attention of President Donald Trump and conservative activists has cost the Secretary of the Navy his job. The prosecution of Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, and a failed attempt to demote him and strip him of his status as a SEAL, is expected to have broad repercussions for the U.S. military. Here’s a look at the case:
WHO IS EDWARD GALLAGHER?
The son of an Army officer, Gallagher enlisted in the Navy in 1999. He served as a Navy medic and in 2005 completed the brutally challenging Basic Underwater Demolition course to become a Navy SEAL, one of the most elite special operations forces in the U.S. military.
He served eight tours and was highly decorated, including being awarded two Bronze Stars with V for valor.
In September 2018, he was arrested while receiving treatment for a traumatic brain injury at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base north of San Diego. He was accused of war crimes that included murder in the fatal stabbing of an Islamic State militant captive in his care and attempted murder in the shootings of civilians during a 2017 deployment to Iraq, among other charges.
At the trial this summer, a key witness for the prosecution, another SEAL, testified to killing the captive but that he saw Gallagher plunge his knife into the captive’s neck.
In the end, the military jury acquitted Gallagher of all the charges except one, posing in photos with the dead captive.
He was sentenced to four months confinement, though he had already served the time in pre-trial custody. The jury also called for his rank to be reduced, cutting his pension and benefits just as the 19-year-veteran prepared to retire.
Trump took an interest after Bernard Kerick, a former business partner to Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, became an advocate for the family and made appearances in conservative media.
Trump has tweeted in support of Gallagher, praising the sailor’s service to the country and saying the case was “handled very badly from the beginning.”
In the spring, Gallagher changed his defense team to include Marc Mukasey, a lawyer for the Trump real estate company.
Shortly after that, the president directed Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to release Gallagher from the brig in San Diego, where he was being held pending trial.
Shortly after the trial, Trump got involved again by ordering the Navy to withdraw commendations that prosecutors received for their work.
Trump this month directed the Navy to restore Gallagher to his previous rank as he issued pardons to two Army soldiers.
The Navy’s top SEAL, Adm. Collin Green on Nov. 19 notified Gallagher that he would be undergoing a peer-review process to determine whether he was still suitable to be a SEAL. Three other SEAL officers who oversaw Gallagher during the Iraq deployment also were notified they were being reviewed.
Over the weekend, Trump gave Defense Secretary Mark Esper a direct order to allow Gallagher to retire without losing his SEAL status. Esper then fired Spencer after learning that the Navy secretary had engaged in private negotiations with the White House that would have allowed a review of Gallagher to proceed.
- Defense secretary says Trump ordered him to allow SEAL to keep status
- Esper fires Navy secretary over controversial Edward Gallagher case
- Trump considers pardons for soldiers accused of war crimes
Trump’s actions on behalf of Gallagher and the two soldiers have dismayed some military officials, who fear the actions undermine the military justice system. Civil liberties advocates and U.S. military leaders expressed concerns that Trump’s actions would send the wrong message to U.S. troops and the global community about American respect for the laws of war and U.S. military justice system.
Gallagher, meanwhile, plans to retire after nearly two decades in the Navy with full benefits.
His attorneys have asked for an investigation into the Navy’s handling of the case in an inspector general’s complaint.
Esper on Monday said he remains concerned, based on the Gallagher case and others, that service members are not properly trained in ethical standards. He said he’s ordered the Pentagon’s legal office to review how the military educates and trains service members on wartime ethics and the laws of armed conflict.
Green, the top SEAL commander, has ordered a review of discipline among the ranks following a number of instances of misconduct, including the Gallagher case.
Trump has nominated his U.S. ambassador to Norway, Kenneth Braithwaite, to serve as his next Navy secretary. Braithwaite is a retired rear admiral of the Navy.
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Watson reported from San Diego.