Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher during a recess in his trial this summer in San Diego, Calif.
“Shocking and unprecedented,” that’s how ousted Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer describes President Trump’s intervention in the Navy SEALs Trident scandal. Spencer was fired this week over the controversy.
He made his comments Wednesday in an op-ed published in The Washington Post. Spencer says Trump called him twice over the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. Gallagher was charged with multiple crimes including killing a wounded ISIS fighter but was convicted only of a lesser offense of posing with the corpse of that captive.
President Trump ordered Gallagher moved out of the brig while awaiting trial. Later the president overturned his demotion after his conviction.
Spencer who’d been the Navy Secretary since 2017 questioned the commander in chief’s intervention in a “low-level” disciplinary action against a service member.
“The president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices,” Spencer writes in the Post.
Navy cancels review of others in war crimes case
In a new development, the Navy is canceling a review hearing for three other SEALs implicated in the Gallagher war crimes case. The move allows Lt. Jacob Portier, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch and Lt. Thomas MacNeil to keep their coveted Trident pins, which symbolize their membership in the elite SEALs unit. Thomas Modly who became acting secretary of the Navy this week said in a statement that neither the Navy nor the SEALs… “deserve the continued distraction and negative attention that recent events have evoked.”
Modly’s announcement follows Trump’s declaration on Twitter that the Navy would not be taking away Gallagher’s Trident pin.
Spencer while still secretary of the Navy chose not to interpret that tweet as a direct order. He scheduled a review hearing that could have led to Gallagher’s removal from the SEALs. In response Spencer was ousted from the top post in the Navy.
The need for military discipline
Janessa Goldbeck, a Marine veteran with the Truman National Security Project says taking this case out of the hands of commanders sends a message to others in the military.
“A review board of SEALs is the appropriate next step,” Goldbeck says of the Navy’s decision to suspend the review hearing of Portier, Breisch and MacNeil. “It’s disappointing to see the president undermine his leadership in this way.”
Former Navy Secretary Spencer says in his op-ed that military discipline works best when senior leadership stays out of it.
“Our system of military justice has helped build the world’s most powerful navy; good leaders get promoted, bad ones get moved out, and criminals are punished,” Spencer writes.
He adds that ethical conduct and the military justice system that enforces it are hallmarks of the U.S. military.
“We are effective overseas,” Spencer says. “Not because we have the best equipment but because we are professionals.”