The Slatest

Trump Cleared a Sailor Accused of War Crimes. The Navy Wants to Expel Him From the SEALs Anyway.

President Trump salutes while standing in front of officers at Dover Air Force Base Jan. 19, 2019 in Dover, Delaware.
President Trump at Dover Air Force Base on Jan. 19 in Dover, Delaware.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Despite being cleared by President Donald Trump as part of series of highly controversial pardons for American servicemen convicted of war crimes, Navy officials are looking to expel Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher from the SEALs. Removing Gallagher from the elite commando force would have little practical impact on the 40-year-old’s military career, as he’s expected to leave the Navy, but is considered an extraordinary and explicit rebuke of the president’s clearing of charges against the special operations chief. Gallagher was accused of murder while deployed in Mosul, Iraq, in 2017, but was only convicted of illegally posing for a photo with a corpse, which resulted in his being stripped of his rank before Trump’s intervention to restore it, a move that was resoundingly disapproved of by Navy officials.

Rear Adm. Collin Green’s effort to punish Gallagher by taking away his Trident pin, a symbol of membership in the SEALs, was made with the support of Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, and Richard Spencer, the secretary of the Navy, and puts the Navy brass in conflict with the president. Navy officials say it could be a potentially career-ending sign of defiance by Green and that the president has the power as commander in chief to restore Gallagher’s Trident. A lawyer for Gallagher said stripping his client of his Trident after the president had already intervened in the case would amount to insubordination.

Ensuring that Gallagher is punished for his actions, however, continues to be a point of emphasis for the Navy. “[Gallagher] was arrested and jailed in 2018 on war crimes charges including shooting unarmed civilians in Iraq and killing a wounded teenage captive with a hunting knife. A military jury acquitted him in July of all the charges except a minor one of posing for a trophy photo with the captive’s corpse; for that crime, he was demoted and faced the possibility of further sanctions,” the New York Times notes. “Navy officials contend that, independent of the criminal charges, Chief Gallagher’s behavior during and since the deployment has fallen below the standard of the SEALs. A Navy investigation uncovered evidence that he had been buying and using narcotics.” Since being acquitted, Gallagher has also taunted and trolled Navy officials online, including the SEALs who testified against him.