Exclusive: U.S. Navy secretary backs SEAL’s expulsion review, despite Trump objection

US

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher prepares to answer a question from the media with wife Andrea Gallagher after being acquitted on most of the serious charges against him during his court-martial trial at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California, U.S., July 2, 2019. REUTERS/John Gastaldo/File Photo

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) – U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said on Friday a Navy SEAL convicted of battlefield misconduct should face a board of peers weighing whether to oust him from the elite force, despite President Donald Trump’s assertion that he not be expelled.

“I believe the process matters for good order and discipline,” Spencer told Reuters, weighing in on a confrontation between Trump and senior Navy officials over the outcome of a high-profile war-crimes case.

A military jury in July convicted Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of illegally posing for pictures with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter while Gallagher was deployed to Iraq in 2017.

The jury acquitted him of murder in the detainee’s death, and he was sentenced to a demotion in rank and pay grade, but not prison time.

Last Friday, Trump intervened in the case, ordering the Navy to restore Gallagher’s rank and pay and clearing the way for him to retire on a full pension.

But Navy brass notified Gallagher this week that a five-member panel of fellow Navy commandos would convene on Dec. 2 to review his case and recommend whether he is fit to remain in the SEALs.

On Thursday, Trump lashed out at the proceedings, declaring on Twitter: “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”

The Navy responded with a statement saying it would follow “lawful orders” from the president to halt the review but was awaiting further guidance, suggesting his Twitter post was not considered a formal directive.

Asked whether he believed the proceedings against Gallagher should continue, Spencer, in an interview at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, said, “Yes, I do.”

Reporting by Steve Scherer in Halifax; Editing by Sandra Maler and David Gregorio

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