Last month, President Trump made some waves inside the military by exercising his authority as Commander in Chief to grant executive clemency to three members of the US military, two Army officers and one Navy senior noncommissioned officer, who had either been accused or convicted of war crimes. The one that caused the most sparks was the case of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher.
Gallagher was a Navy SEAL who was ordered to stand court-martial for allegedly killing a wounded terrorist. What was actually at stake was an admiral’s ego and his desire to make Gallagher a poster child for his campaign to clean up indiscipline within the Navy’s Special Operations community.
Gallagher’s home was raided in the middle of the night by a SWAT team and his young children forced to stand outside in their underwear as his quarters were searched. Gallagher was ordered into pre-trial confinement, not because of any evidence that he was a flight risk but as a way of extracting extra-judicial punishment. It was at this point that President Trump took a personal interest in the case and ordered Gallagher released from confinement and placed in house arrest.
Things got better. The prosecutors in the case inserted malware into emails sent to Gallagher’s defense team that, if it had not been discovered, would have allowed those prosecutors to monitor the privileged email conversations of Gallagher’s attorneys. To cap it off, a prosecution witness testifying under a grant of immunity confessed on the witness stand that it was he, not Gallagher, who killed the terrorist.
In the end, Gallagher was convicted of a single charge that involved posing, along with nearly a dozen other SEALs, with the body of a dead terrorist. Because he was sentenced to time served, that carried an automatic reduction to the lowest enlisted grade. The General Court Martial Convening Authority set aside the sentence of confinement but did order Gallagher reduced one grade. The other SEALs in the photo were not, as far as can be determined, disciplined in any way, much less court-martialed.
Then, in what can only be described as a bureaucratic victory dance, the Navy awarded Navy Achievement Medals to the prosecution team. President Trump ordered the medals rescinded.
In San Diego, we definitely reached Panty Status:Wadded.
The hammer blow to the egos came when Trump announced that he was setting aside Gallagher’s punishment and restoring him in rank. The admiral commanding Special Warfare Command, Collin Green, announced that he was convening a board to strip Gallagher of his SEAL Trident. President Trump disagreed
The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2019
What ensued was a no-holds-barred fight that resulted in Gallagher keeping his Trident and the Navy Secretary getting caught lying to his boss, seemingly trying to play both ends against the middle, and being fired.
To say there are forces within the Navy hierarchy who are smarting from being publicly slapped about by President Trump is an understatement. Now those forces have struck back:
The Navy SEALs showed up one by one, wearing hoodies and T-shirts instead of uniforms, to tell investigators what they had seen. Visibly nervous, they shifted in their chairs, rubbed their palms and pressed their fists against their foreheads. At times they stopped in midsentence and broke into tears.
“Sorry about this,” Special Operator First Class Craig Miller, one of the most experienced SEALs in the group, said as he looked sideways toward a blank wall, trying to hide that he was weeping. “It’s the first time — I’m really broken up about this.”
Video recordings of the interviews obtained by The New York Times, which have not been shown publicly before, were part of a trove of Navy investigative materials about the prosecution of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher on war crimes charges including murder.
The trove of materials also includes thousands of text messages the SEALs sent one another about the events and the prosecution of Chief Gallagher. Together with the dozens of hours of recorded interviews, they provide revealing insights into the men of the platoon, who have never spoken publicly about the case, and the leader they turned in.
This is just a childish, though outrageous, act by petty little men who are impotent to do anything but stamp tiny feet of rage. Leaking of investigative materials is illegal. Period. There is a way this material may be released but someone within the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) or the Navy JAG office did an end run around the system. Leaking of investigative materials to challenge the findings of a court-martial panel, to damage the reputation of a man who has been acquitted of serious wrongdoing, and to try to damage the Commander in Chief by promoting the narrative that he pardoned a cold-blooded killer is simply unprecedented in American history.
Does anyone think this horrific information about Gallagher’s psychopathic conduct would’ve deterred President Trump even briefly from valorizing this sadistic war criminal? I’m afraid I don’t. This Commander in Chief is utterly unworthy of that role. https://t.co/wjWdIdhxUP
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) December 27, 2019
The central question that isn’t answered in the New York Times story is why, if these allegations are sufficiently serious to to leak in an effort to try to destroy Chief Gallagher’s reputation, weren’t they serious enough to make it onto the charge sheet for the court-martial? The one incident made infamous, the allegation that Chief Gallagher casually shot a girl from his sniping hide position, was investigated and it was not one of the charges against Gallagher. In a court-martial where Gallagher was over-charged to the maximum–there were two counts of possession of a controlled substances involving a prescription strength analgesic and injectable anabolic steroids–had there been a scintilla of actual evidence of any of the claims made against Gallagher by the men in these videos he would have been charged.
This is simply one more example of a Navy command structure that is out of control and in a virtual state of mutiny against President Trump. It is a symptom, along with the actions of Rear Admiral Green which were tantamount to telling the Commander in Chief to FOAD, of a military service riddled with hubris and which sees itself as answerable to no one. The sole purpose of leaking video of unsubstantiated allegations is try to engage in score-settling with President Trump over the way he handed the Navy command structure its butt in the fight over Gallagher’s punishment. Whoever leaked this compilation of video and documentary evidence did so with the sure knowledge that NCIS would not care a great deal about finding the leaker and that the chain of command was in sympathy with the act. In short, they are essentially acting with command authority otherwise they would never have undertaken a high-risk act like this.
Department of Defense needs to come down hard and heavy on this. And if the Defense Secretary can’t find the time in his busy schedule to quell an open revolt against the President, President Trump should fire him and find someone who can make that a priority.