Trump intervention on behalf of US navy seal angers top brass

Edward Gallagher reduced in rank and pay by command but president reversed decision

In July, a military jury acquitted Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of charges he murdered a captured Islamic State fighter. File photograph: Reuters

In July, a military jury acquitted Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of charges he murdered a captured Islamic State fighter. File photograph: Reuters

 

A US navy seal whose rank was recently restored by President Donald Trump following a court martial is now facing an attempt by navy command to remove him from the elite force, according to US officials and his lawyer.

Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher (40) was accused of committing war crimes while deployed to Mosul in Iraq in 2017.

In July, a military jury acquitted him of charges he murdered a captured Islamic State fighter by stabbing the wounded prisoner in the neck, but it convicted him of illegally posing with the detainee’s corpse.

While such an offence carries a maximum sentence of four months imprisonment, Special Operations Chief Gallagher was instead demoted in rank and pay grade.

Last week, Mr Trump restored his rank and pay to chief petty officer. The president also pardoned two army officers separately accused of war crimes in Afghanistan. Critics said Mr Trump’s moves undermined military justice and sent a message that battlefield atrocities would be tolerated.

An official US source said Special Operations Chief Gallagher and three other Seals are likely to be notified on Wednesday that they must appear before a board that will decide whether they should be stripped of their Seal status.

Officials said that process could take weeks, but the decision to review Special Operations Chief Gallagher’s status had the support of senior navy leaders.

If he is removed from the elite force, he would either have to retire or find a different position in the navy.

The chief petty officer’s civilian lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, said the move to take away the trident pin designating him as a Seal was being driven by naval special warfare commander Rear Admiral Collin Green.

‘Suicidal power play’

Mr Parlatore said he had filed an inspector general’s complaint accusing Rear Admiral Green of defying the commander-in-chief in an act of insubordination, for which Mr Parlatore said the admiral himself could be court martialed.

“He’s making some suicidal power play against the president,” said Mr Parlatore of the admiral. “He has to know this is the death knell for his career. He’s chosen this hill to die on.”

The Navy Times newspaper, which covers news in the armed forces, reported the chief petty officer’s special warfare superiors planned to meet him in California on Wednesday morning to inform him that a Trident Review Board has been convened.

In a meeting with his staff on Monday, the admiral “made clear his contempt of the president and disagreement with the president’s decision” and “declared he intended to remove . . . Gallagher’s trident anyway”, according to the 16-page complaint, a copy of which was posted online by the Navy Times.

“It is incomprehensible to understand how, given the commander in chief’s clear guidance” that Rear Admiral Green “thinks it is appropriate to countermand this and increase the punishment”, said the complaint. “Moreover, no flag officer should ever be speaking contemptuously of the commander in chief in front of his subordinates.”

Naval special warfare spokeswoman Capt Tamara Lawrence disputed as “patently false” assertions that the admiral had expressed contempt for the president, reported the Times.

Mr Trump’s decision last Friday to restore the chief petty officer’s rank marked the fourth time the president has intervened or publicly commented directly on the navy seal’s case.

The outcome of the three-week trial was a major legal victory for the chief petty officer, who would have faced a possible life sentence had he been convicted on the most serious charges he faced.

Still, the demotion was seen as a harsh rebuke for a career navy combat veteran and two-time Bronze Star recipient who is nearing retirement after nearly two decades in the military.

Special Operations Chief Gallagher has insisted his accusers were disgruntled subordinates with no prior battlefield experience who fabricated allegations against him over grievances with his leadership style and tactics. – Reuters