The Navy and President Trump have been in a tug of war over Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the Navy SEAL at the center of a highly publicized war crimes case. The Navy prosecuted Gallagher and wanted to expel him from the SEALs, but the president, as commander in chief, has repeatedly intervened in the sailor’s favor.
Here is what you need to know about Gallagher, the war crimes case, and the tussle over his fate.
Who is Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher?
The son of a West Point graduate and career Army officer, Edward Gallagher enlisted in the Navy as a medic in 1999 and deployed to Iraq attached to a Marine infantry unit. He became one of the few Navy medics ever to complete the Marines’ demanding scout sniper school. Now 40, he sometimes goes by the nickname Blade.
He graduated from the Navy’s punishing Basic Underwater Demolition course in 2005 and joined the SEALs, the most elite commando force in the Navy. Since then, he has deployed to combat zones with the SEALs five times, rising to become a special operations chief, as SEAL chief petty officers are known. Gallagher was named the top platoon leader in SEAL Team 7 and has been awarded several Bronze Stars for valor in actions under fire in Iraq and Afghanistan. The chief came to be widely known among the SEALs as a battle-wise veteran.
Since his arrest last fall, his supporters, including conservative lawmakers and media outlets, have portrayed Gallagher as a valiant SEAL who was being unfairly second-guessed and prosecuted over heat-of-the-moment decisions in a combat zone. But his critics, including some fellow SEALs, have said he had become a rogue operator and poor military role model, and had committed heinous acts of unnecessary violence.
What wrongdoing was he accused of?
SEALs from the platoon that Gallagher led during a deployment to Mosul, Iraq, in 2017 told military officials that they saw the chief fatally stab a wounded captive from the Islamic State group. Navy investigators said while several SEALs were providing medical aid to the fighter, Gallagher took out a handmade hunting knife and stabbed the captive, a teenager, several times in the neck and torso.
The chief was also accused of firing a sniper rifle at civilians, striking a girl wearing a flower-print hijab as she walked along a riverbank and an old man carrying a water jug. Several SEALs broke the group’s code of silence and testified against Gallagher in a military trial.
What were the results of the court-martial?
The chief appeared before a military jury of five Marines and two sailors in a two-week trial that started in late June and was marred by accusations of prosecutorial misconduct and a witness who changed his story on the stand.
After deliberating for about two hours, the jury acquitted Gallagher of murder, attempted murder and obstruction of justice charges. But the chief was convicted of one relatively minor charge — posing for inappropriate photos with the dead captive — and sentenced to four months’ imprisonment, time he had already served before trial. The jury also ordered that the chief be demoted one rank to petty officer first class, a step that became a point of contention.
During the sentencing, Gallagher told the jury he had put “a black eye” on the Marine Corps and the Navy. “I’ve made mistakes in my 20-year career — tactical, ethical, moral — I’m not perfect,” he said. “But I’ve always bounced back from my mistakes.”
Why did the Navy want him out of the SEALs?
During the war crimes investigation, officials uncovered evidence that Gallagher had violated regulations in a number of ways. A live training grenade was found in his garage. Text messages were unearthed in which he talked about using marijuana and narcotics with other SEALs.
That behavior, along with his criminal conviction, has rankled the commander of the SEALs, Rear Adm. Collin Green, who has sought to rein in what some saw as years of lax discipline in the force. A sailor can be expelled from the SEALs if a commander loses “faith and confidence in the service member’s ability to exercise sound judgment, reliability and personal conduct.”
The Navy has expelled more than 150 sailors from the SEALs since 2011, stripping them of the right to wear the Trident pins that signify membership. Having the insignia taken away is a serious consequence: The dead take their comrades’ Trident pins with them to the grave.
How has Trump helped Gallagher?
Trump has provided supportive messages for Gallagher on Twitter, offering congratulations after the court-martial verdict and telling him and his family, “You have been through much together.” But Trump has been more than a cheerleader.
The president ordered less restrictive confinement for Gallagher while he awaited trial; reversed his demotion and restored his rank to chief petty officer after the verdict; and last week, announced that he would prevent the Navy from kicking the chief out of the SEALs.
After Gallagher had his rank restored this month, he thanked Trump on Instagram, writing, “I truly believe that we are blessed as a Nation to have a Commander-in-Chief that stands up for our warfighters.”