Navy Rescinds Awards To Prosecutors In Case Of SEAL Acquitted Of Murdering Captive
Military awards given to prosecutors in a case against a SEAL who was acquitted of murder in the death of a prisoner in Iraq have been revoked by the Navy's top official after President Trump tweeted Wednesday that the commendations should be withdrawn.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer ordered seven Navy Achievement Medals and three letters of commendation given to the prosecution team be rescinded, Navy spokesman Cmdr. Jereal Dorsey said Wednesday, hours after a pair of scathing tweets from the president.
In the high-profile case, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher was found not guilty by a military jury of premeditated murder of the 17-year-old Islamic State prisoner in 2017. In early July, Gallagher was sentenced to a demotion in rank and a reduction in pay for posing with the dead captive's body.
The jury heard testimony from fellow SEALs that Gallagher stabbed the captive in the neck, but one of the witnesses dramatically changed his story at trial, saying that in an act of mercy, he had killed the prisoner by blocking his airway after Gallagher stabbed him.
A SEAL sniper and medic, Gallagher, 40, was serving his eighth deployment at the time of the incident. He is a 19-year Navy veteran who had previously been awarded the Bronze Star. He was also accused of shooting unarmed Iraqi civilians but was acquitted on those counts as well.
The prosecution's case was plagued by problems, including a sanction from the military judge for violating the defendant's constitutional rights. The lead prosecutor, Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak, was removed from the case for conducting a warrantless surveillance program aimed at tracking emails sent by the defense team. Prosecutors were also accused of granting immunity in an effort to block defense witnesses from testifying, according to the Navy Times.
In Trump's tweets on Wednesday, the president said the prosecutors had been "ridiculously given" the awards, adding, "Not only did they lose the case, they had difficulty with respect ... to information that may have been obtained from opposing lawyers and for giving immunity in a totally incompetent fashion."
The president's remarks via Twitter on Wednesday marked the third time that he had publicly commented on the case.
After Gallagher's acquittal in early July, Trump tweeted his congratulations, writing: "Glad I could help!"
Former Pentagon spokesman David Lapan, a retired Marine colonel, told The Associated Press that the personal intervention of the president represented the "further politicization of the military," calling it "ludicrous ... in the face of so many more important and pressing personnel issues."
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.