WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he has directed top U.S. Navy officials to rescind a military award he says was given to Navy prosecutors who tried a Navy SEAL platoon leader acquitted of murder and attempted murder charges.
The series of tweets from Trump marked at least the third time the president has publicly commented directly on the case brought against Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who was accused of committing various war crimes while deployed in Iraq in 2017.
The court-martial of Gallagher in San Diego ended earlier this month with a military jury acquitting him of murdering a captured Islamic State fighter but convicting him of unlawfully posing for photos with the prisoner’s dead body.
Gallagher also was found not guilty of attempted murder charges stemming from the wounding of two unarmed civilians – a school girl and an elderly man – who were shot from a sniper’s perch. Much of the testimony against him came from fellow sailors who were given immunity from prosecution.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that the prosecutors “who lost the case … were ridiculously given a Navy Achievement Medal,” and the president added that he was ordering Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and the chief of naval operations to “immediately withdraw and rescind the awards.”
It was not immediately clear what awards Trump was referring to on Twitter. The Navy did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump also criticized Navy prosecutors “for giving immunity in a totally incompetent fashion” and took credit for having released Gallagher “from solitary confinement so he could fight his case properly.”
Gallagher, a 40-year-old decorated combat veteran was spared any prison time beyond the nearly seven months he had spent in pretrial custody. But the jury sentenced him to a demotion in rank and pay for the crime of posing for pictures with a human casualty. His lawyers said they planned to appeal those penalties.
Gallagher has maintained he was wrongly accused by disgruntled subordinates who fabricated allegations against him over grievances with his leadership style and tactics and testified for the prosecution under grants of immunity.
Trump first intervened in Gallagher’s case in March, when he ordered the Navy SEAL moved from a military brig to less restrictive confinement at a Navy base, in recognition of what the president called the platoon leader’s “past service to our country.” The court-martial judge later released Gallagher altogether, citing pretrial prosecutor misconduct.
Trump weighed in again just after the jury verdict to congratulate Gallagher on Twitter.
In May, Trump said publicly that he was considering pardons for a number of U.S. military personnel accused of war crimes, and Gallagher’s case was widely believed to be one of those under review.
(Reporting by Phillip Stewart in Washington; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Bill Berkrot)