Last summer, in the wake of a series of high-profile scandals involving Navy SEALS, General Richard Clarke, head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, called for a wide-ranging review of the “culture and ethics” of the units under his command. To my knowledge, that investigation has not been completed and no report has been issued.
However, it is clear that internal discipline in the SEALS is a serious concern among military leadership, particularly as it relates to personal conduct. One can only suppose what the reaction of those most concerned with this problem felt when President Trumped tweeted that he would prohibit and overturn any disciplinary action against Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher.
Gallagher, who was acquitted of murder and other charges in a military court martial was found guilty of wrongfully posing for a photo with a human casualty. Adding gas to the emerging fire, Trump ordered then-Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer to revoke Navy Achievement Medals that were given to the team that had prosecuted Gallagher. He then fired Spencer. And Gallagher had the gall to appear on “Fox and Friends” insulting his commanding officers, knowing that he was free from any discipline.
Imagine that you are a Navy prosecutor and are preparing a case against a SEAL accused of a vicious rape. Imagine that it is an open-and-shut case – the evidence is undeniable. How must one feel, knowing that there was a likelihood that, after the trial and conviction and exhaustion of appeals – or perhaps before that process had run its course – the president could announce, on Twitter, that the defendant was pardoned. Imagine a female officer who had been harassed by SEALS and was in justifiable fear for her own safety. How could she depend on the protection of higher officers, given that her potential assailants know that the president “has their back.”
Trump’s intervention in the Gallagher case, and the cheerleading on Fox News is going to have a disastrous impact on the morale and discipline of Navy SEALS for years and perhaps decades.