WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday blasted the U.S. Navy’s handling of a Navy SEAL whose rank he recently restored following a court martial, saying he would not allow the service to remove his SEALS status.
“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!” Trump said in a post on Twitter.
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
A military jury convicted Gallagher of illegally posing with an Islamic State detainee’s corpse while deployed to Iraq in 2017 but acquitted him of murder, prompting a demotion in rank and pay but not prison time.
Trump last week restored his rank and pay, and pardoned two Army officers who were separately accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.
“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history,” the White House said in a statement at the time.
U.S. officials and Gallagher’s lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday that Navy officials were considering whether to remove him from the Navy’s special operations force.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said at the time that Gallagher and three other SEALs were 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.
Donald Trump defends Eddie Gallagher
Gallagher, a decorated SEAL team platoon leader, was accused of committing various war crimes while deployed in Iraq in 2017.
In July, a military jury acquitted him of murdering 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. That had led to his rank being reduced.
Golsteyn received word of his pardon from Trump, who spoke with him by telephone for several minutes, Golsteyn’s attorney Phillip Stackhouse said in a statement.
“Our family is profoundly grateful for the president’s action. We have lived in constant fear of this runaway prosecution,” Golsteyn was quoted saying in the statement.
A Pentagon spokesperson said the Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system.
“The President is part of the military justice system as the Commander-in-Chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature,” the spokesperson said.
But the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the president’s action.
“With this utterly shameful use of presidential powers, Trump has sent a clear message of disrespect for law, morality, the military justice system, and those in the military who abide by the laws of war,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement.
Trump is the decider
In May, Trump talked about how he was considering pardons for U.S. troops charged with war crimes, a move he acknowledged would be controversial but that he said was justified because they had been treated “unfairly.”
The overwhelming majority of pardons are granted to people who have already been convicted and served time for a federal offense.
But presidents have occasionally granted pardons preemptively to individuals accused of or suspected of a crime.
The most famous such case was the blanket pardon President Gerald Ford bestowed on his predecessor, Richard Nixon, after Nixon’s resignation during the Watergate scandal in 1974.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; editing by Toby Chopra and Bernadette Baum)