As president of the United States, Donald Trump is also commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces. His actions as such have not only shamed this country, they are a disgrace to the military he claims to love.
This particular dust-up revolves around Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL charged with war crimes. A highly decorated veteran of eight tours, Gallagher faced several criminal charges, including the fatal stabbing of a wounded captive fighter for the Islamic State in Iraq, posing for a photo with the corpse and shooting two civilians. He was convicted of the single charge of posing with the dead captive.
Gallagher’s case came to the attention of Trump and right-wing politicians early in the year after Rudy Giuliani’s former business partner began to make allegations that Gallagher was being scapegoated. Trump took up that banner. Gallagher hired a former Trump real estate company lawyer for his defense.
Trump ordered the Navy to release Gallagher from the brig prior to his trial. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer had him moved to restricted quarters at the Naval Hospital in San Diego, possibly due to testimony from other SEALs that Gallagher had threatened them.
At trial, a jury acquitted Gallagher of most of the charges, but convicted him of posing with the dead captive. He had already served the required sentence, but the jury ordered that he be demoted, his pension and benefits be reduced and his SEAL position stripped.
Strict discipline and adherence to codes of conduct are essential for units like the SEALs. In that vein, Gallagher and three other SEAL officers who commanded him in Iraq were to undergo peer-review of their suitability to remain SEALs.
Ignoring the chain of command and completely dismissing the military court, Trump ordered the Navy to restore Gallagher’s rank. This month, he ordered Defense Secretary Mark Esper to allow Gallagher to retire as a SEAL. Esper fired the Navy secretary for trying to proceed with the Gallagher review.
Trump’s interventions constitute not only blatant disrespect for military justice, they demonstrate his willingness to reward anyone who courts his favor, no matter the consequences.
Add this latest travesty to his recent order to remove American special forces from Syria. This forced America’s military to turn tail and abandon our Kurdish allies without warning after Turkey’s strongman Recep Erdogan and Trump had a private conversation.
America’s military is not unbreakable. Trump deserves only scorn for trying to prove that.