Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 14 December 2019

US commando accused of war crimes still under review despite Trump intervention

Edward Gallagher was acquitted of charges relating to stabbing death of wounded ISIS prisoner in Iraq in 2017

Edward Gallagher leaves a military court on Naval Base San Diego in July. AP
Edward Gallagher leaves a military court on Naval Base San Diego in July. AP

A US Navy Seal facing a move to expel him from the elite commando unit was told on Thursday that proceedings will go forward, despite a declaration from President Donald Trump, the sailor's lawyer said.

In a Twitter message criticising the Navy's handling of the case, Mr Trump pledged that Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who was acquitted of murder but convicted of posing for pictures with the corpse of an Iraqi prisoner, would keep his position.

"The Navy will not be taking away far fighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s trident pin," he said. "This case was handled very badly from the beginning."

Mr Trump's latest intervention in the war crimes case against Mr Gallagher, 40, came nearly a week after he ordered the Navy to reverse the demotion in rank and pay grade imposed on the soldier as his court-martial sentence.

But the Navy's top Seal, Rear Admiral Collin Green, followed Mr Trump's tweet by convening a "trident review board" to decide whether Mr Gallagher was fit to remain in the Seal corps.

Mr Gallagher was formally notified on Wednesday that he was under review, with a hearing set for December 2.

Mr Trump's tweet on Thursday appeared to escalate the prospect of a showdown between him and senior Navy leadership.

A short time later, Mr Gallagher was told face-to-face by a representative of the special warfare command at Naval Base Coronado, near San Diego, that the trident review board hearing would go forward as planned, said his lead defence lawyer, Timothy Parlatore.

Mr Parlatore said he took the meaning of Mr Trump's declaration on Twitter as “unequivocal" and a “direct and lawful order from the commander-in-chief”.

Critics said the president’s moves to intervene in war crime cases undermined military justice and sent a message that battlefield atrocities would be tolerated.

Last week, Mr Trump dismissed a second-degree murder conviction against Army First Lt Clint Lorance, who was six years into a 19-year term for ordering soldiers in 2012 to fire on three unarmed Afghan men on a motorcycle, two of whom died.

He also granted clemency to West Point graduate Matt Golsteyn, a former member of the elite US Army Green Berets, charged with premeditated murder in the shooting of a suspected Taliban bomb-maker in 2010.

Updated: November 22, 2019 04:13 AM

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