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US Navy Chief Fired over Handling of Iraq-Linked Discipline Case

US Navy Chief Fired over Handling of Iraq-Linked Discipline Case

Monday, 25 November, 2019 - 08:30
FILE PHOTO: Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer speaks with personnel during a visit to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan, July 12, 2018. U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Akeel Austin/Handout via REUTERS

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired the Navy's top civilian on Sunday over his handling of the case of a Navy SEAL who was convicted of battlefield misconduct in Iraq and whose demotion was reversed by President Donald Trump.


Esper also determined that the sailor in question, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, should be allowed to retain his Trident pin designating him as a SEAL - effectively ending the Navy's efforts to carry out a peer review that could have ousted him from the elite force.


Trump, who publicly opposed taking away Gallagher's Trident pin and had intervened in the case to restore his rank, cheered the moves.


"Eddie will retire peacefully with all of the honors that he has earned, including his Trident Pin," Trump, who is the commander-in-chief of the US military, said on Twitter.


The fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer last week suggested a possible split with Trump by telling Reuters that Gallagher should still face a peer review board.


The SEAL was acquitted by a military jury in July of murdering a captured and wounded ISIS militant in Iraq by stabbing him in the neck, but it convicted him of illegally posing with the detainee's corpse. That had led to his rank being reduced.


The White House said in November that Trump had restored Gallagher's rank and had pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan. Critics had said such actions would undermine military justice and send a message that battlefield atrocities will be tolerated.


In a letter acknowledging his termination, and seen by Reuters, Spencer took parting shots at Trump and defended the need to preserve "good order and discipline throughout the ranks" -- something Navy officials had believed the peer review board would help ensure.


"The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries," Spencer wrote.


"Unfortunately it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me."


Speaking to Fox News on Sunday, Gallagher accused the navy of acting in retaliation after he lodged a complaint.


"They could have taken my Trident (pin) at any time they wanted," he said. "Now they're trying to take it after the president restored my rank."


Gallagher's case has been strongly championed by Fox News and Trump's conservative base.


But it has also drawn criticism that the president was undermining military judicial process.


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