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News Source: nytimes.com
Trump Orders Navy To Strip Medals From Prosecutors In War Crimes Trial
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Trump Orders Navy To Strip Medals From Prosecutors In War Crimes Trial

WASHINGTON — President Trump intervened Tuesday once again on behalf of a Navy SEAL who was charged but acquitted of war crimes in the death of a captured Islamic State fighter in Iraq, ordering the military to punish the prosecutors who tried the case in the first place.

Mr. Trump angrily lashed out at the Navy for awarding commendations to prosecutors in the murder trial of Edward Gallagher, a former special operations chief, and he publicly instructed Pentagon officials to strip them of the medals. His announcement was a remarkable rebuke by a president of his own Navy leadership.

He added: “I have directed the Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer & Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson to immediately withdraw and rescind the awards. I am very happy for Eddie Gallagher and his family!”

Chief Gallagher’s case had become a cause célèbre among Republican lawmakers and the conservative news media, eventually drawing the attention of Mr. Trump, who spoke out on his behalf. In March, the president said that he would order the chief be moved to less restrictive pretrial confinement in honor of his service to his country.

Chief Gallagher was turned in by members of his own SEAL platoon, who accused him of stabbing a captured and wounded teenage fighter repeatedly in the neck with a custom hunting knife in 2017. He was also charged with obstruction of justice for threatening to kill the SEALs who reported him.

In a court-martial this month, he was found not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of the captive and was also acquitted of accusations that he had fired at unarmed civilians who posed no threat, including an old man and a schoolgirl. Chief Gallagher denied the charges, and his defense team said his accusers resented his leadership style.

Chief Gallagher was convicted of only a single charge, related to posing for photographs with the body of the teenage captive. He was sentenced to four months’ confinement and a reduction in rank, to special operator first class.

The prosecution was troubled long before the verdict. The lead prosecutor was removed from the case after being caught attaching tracking software to email messages sent to defense lawyers. Then another SEAL who was given immunity surprised prosecutors by testifying from the stand that he was the one who had killed the captive.

Nonetheless, the Navy hosted an award ceremony on July 10 for four lawyers who worked on the case, as well as four legal support workers, all of whom were awarded Navy Achievement Medals, according to Task and Purpose, an online news site focused on the military and veterans. The San Diego-based Navy legal office, it reported, maintained that it was right to prosecute Chief Gallagher.

Other presidents have been dissatisfied with military prosecutors, but experts could not recall another instance in recent times when a commander in chief intervened so directly in a case like this. In other administrations, they said, any objections to medals would usually be expressed privately and resolved outside of public view.

“What makes this unusual is the president’s decision to do it through Twitter, thus making it a very public rebuke of everyone involved,” said Peter D. Feaver, a specialist on civilian-military relations at Duke University and former national security aide to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

“Of course, the president as commander in chief has the prerogative to give his rebukes however he wishes,” Mr. Feaver added, “but the approach President Trump has chosen to take seems calculated to inflame rather than calm the issue.”