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Navy Secretary Ousted Over Handling Of SEAL War Crimes Case

In this July 16, 2019, photo, acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer listens during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)
In this July 16, 2019, photo, acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer listens during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The secretary of the Navy is ousted over his handling of the war crimes case of a SEAL. We unpack the case and controversy.


Jeff Schogol, Pentagon reporter for Task & Purpose. (@JeffSchogol)

Timothy Parlatore, attorney for Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher. Former Navy officer. (@ParlatoreLaw)

Bradley Strawser, professor of philosophy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He teaches ethics to military professionals in the Special Forces community and provides guidance on ethics education to senior leaders at Special Operations Command. He also advises corporate leadership of Fortune 500 companies on organizational culture and ethical practice. Author of the forthcoming “The Bounds of Defense: Killing, Moral Responsibility, and War.” Co-author of “Who Should Die?: The Ethics of Killing in War.” (@NPS_Monterey)

From The Reading List

Task & Purpose: “Navy Secretary Richard Spencer fired over handling of Eddie Gallagher’s SEAL trident” — “Defense Secretary Mark Esper has fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and ordered that Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher keep his trident, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed on Sunday.

“‘Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper has asked for the resignation of Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer after losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House involving the handling of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher,’ Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.

“Esper has also ordered that Gallagher keep his SEAL trident, Hoffman said, That move ends the Navy’s attempt to kick Gallagher out of the elite SEAL community.

“‘You can never predict what happens next in this case,’ Gallagher’s attorney Timothy Parlatore said on Sunday.”

War On The Rocks: “Disgraceful Pardons: Dishonoring Our Honorable” — “Six months ago, there were reports that President Donald Trump was planning to pardon several military members who are charged with war crimes and others who have been convicted of war crimes. It was said he was going to do this on, of all days, Memorial Day — the solemn day when America honors all members of the military who have given their lives in defense of the nation. Thankfully, such a previously unfathomable act did not come to pass last May.

“But now it has. Trump has pardoned several military members who have been convicted of war crimes by the military’s own justice system. As professors at the Naval War College and the Naval Postgraduate School and military ethicists, we have dedicated our careers to the ethics education of our nation’s military professionals, though the views expressed here are our own and do not represent the Department of Defense or our respective institutions. These pardons engender a multitude of damaging impacts, set a profoundly negative precedent, and convey a deeply troubling message to our own military and society, and to the world. That the actions were announced on all three cases at the same time is particularly concerning, even though the cases involved different issues, as it seems designed to send a broader message about war crimes and military professionalism in general.”

New York Times: “Trump Reverses Navy Decision to Oust Edward Gallagher From SEALs” — “Anyone in the Navy can spot a SEAL by the gold insignia pinned to his chest: an eagle on an anchor, clutching a flintlock pistol and a trident. It is the badge of an elite band of warriors, one of the most revered in the military.

“The pin, known as the Trident, represents the grit of sailors who made it through some of the toughest training in the Navy, and are given some of the riskiest missions. It stands for fidelity and sacrifice. Even in death, the pin plays a role: SEALs pound their pins into the wood of fallen comrades’ caskets.

“This week, the Trident became a symbol of defiance.

“Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher wore his pin when he reported to work on Thursday at Naval Base Coronado near San Diego. But that pin, and Chief Gallagher’s 14-year SEAL career, had become the focus of an epic clash between President Trump and the Navy.”

Military Times: “How the long-term effect of Trump’s recent war crimes actions could play out” — “President Donald Trump’s decision to grant clemency in the cases of three military members tangled in war crimes cases raises questions about whether troops are being given a green light to disobey the rules of law.

“But interviews with current and former military leaders, lawyers and outspoken military commentators also show a belief that Trump’s actions may have no effect on troops predisposed to follow those rules.

“Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, convicted of second degree murder in the death of three Afghans, was given a full pardon from president for the crimes. Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who faced murder charges next year for a similar crime, was also given a full pardon for those alleged offenses.

“Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, who earlier this fall was acquitted of a string of alleged war crimes while being convicted of posing with a dead Taliban member, had his rank restored to Chief Petty Officer by the president.”

Politico: “Trump pardons soldiers implicated in war crimes” — “President Donald Trump, carrying through on a previous pledge, granted full pardons on Friday to a pair of Army officers convicted of or charged with war crimes — and also promoted a Navy SEAL who was tried and acquitted for similar violations of the laws of armed conflict.

“The grants of clemency for 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Mathew Golsteyn — and the promotion to chief petty officer of Edward Gallagher, who had been demoted from that rank — were approved despite lingering concerns that such presidential interference will damage the integrity of the military justice system.

“‘The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted,’ the White House said in a statement. ‘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. As the President has stated, ‘when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.’ “

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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