Military experts question how Trump’s intervention in SEAL case will alter perceptions of Navy
Debate over whether Navy Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher — accused of posing with the corpse of a teen ISIS fighter while on deployment in Iraq — should retain his SEAL status reached a fever pitch over the weekend, raising questions about America’s commitment to international standards for battlefield ethics.
On Monday, Nov. 25, Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed that President Donald Trump had ordered him to stop a disciplinary review of Gallagher that could have cost the decorated SEAL his Trident pin, a symbol that he is a member of the elite military community. Esper last week said he favored the review.
The announcement followed the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who served as the Navy’s civilian leader. Esper said Spencer used back channels to go around him and propose a secret deal with the White House.
In the aftermath of the recent developments, military veterans and experts questioned how the twists and turns might change the perception of the Navy within its ranks, among the American public, and on a global scale.
“The intervention in military justice decisions by leaders without any military training or experience undermines a necessary condition of the chain of command to follow the military Code of Conduct and Geneva Convention for treating prisoners and civilian noncombatants,” said Michael Beanan, a Navy SEAL who served in Vietnam and lives in Laguna Beach. “It is clear from the evidence provided by SEAL team members and a military court of law, Chief Gallagher committed war crimes.
“Under the constant pressure of combat, some soldiers will become so dehumanized and terrified they will ruthlessly kill or, in their thinking, be killed,” he said. ‘I’d rather be tried in a court-martial by 12 of my peers than be carried by six of my friends to an early grave,’ is often a rationale to shoot first at everything and everybody and sort out the justifications later.”
Gallagher, 40, was found guilty of posing with the corpse of the ISIS fighter during the 2017 deployment to Mosul. The court-martial verdict, which also found him not guilty of the premeditated murder of the teen and of shooting at two civilians, was upheld by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday on Oct. 29. In finalizing the verdict, Gilday also upheld the demotion of Gallagher from Chief to First Class Petty Officer, reducing his lifetime pension.
On Nov. 15, Trump intervened and restored Gallagher to Chief Petty Officer, the pay grade he held prior to his court-martial. Five days later, Gallagher received a letter signed by SEAL Commander Rear Adm. Collin Green advising him that a Trident Review Board would convene Dec. 2 to review his performance.
A day later, Trump tweeting that the Navy “will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin.”
“President Trump’s tweets regarding Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher are the latest example of his disregard for the rule of law, military chain of command, and the brave men and women who honorably served our country,” said Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Laguna Beach, who has been active in veterans issues.
On Monday, though, the decision was final. Gallagher, his family and his defense attorneys rejoiced in the outcome, but vowed to expose “rampant corruption in the Military Justice System.”
Beanan, was among those not satisfied with the decision.
“The military chain of command provides a powerful tool to enforce orderly warfare during the chaos of combat,” Beanan said. “Alternatively, the chain-of-command provides soldiers a constructive path to report crimes against humanity, i.e, war crimes such as shooting unarmed prisoners, extrajudicial executions, or gruesome ‘war porn’ photos of the mutilated and dead.
“Reversing the decision to strip Chief Gallagher of his SEAL status sends a message that war crimes are now permitted by the nation’s commander-in-chief,” he said. “With the recent decision to allow war crimes to go unpunished, America is moving ever closer to becoming a permanent source of global wars. If we are operating without any sense of justice or respect for human life, countries around the globe will understandably distance themselves from our rouge nation status. The safeguards of mutual international alliances and protection will disappear leaving us less safe than we are today.”
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