President Donald Trump took a highly extraordinary — and in my view a highly inappropriate — step on Wednesday in ordering the Navy to rescind the achievement medals awarded to military prosecutors in the case against Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. Gallagher was accused of murder and other crimes in his killing of a teenage ISIS fighter who was his prisoner in 2017 in Iraq. It is hard not to view the President’s intervention as retaliation against prosecutors who took an unpopular case and carried out their duties despite being publicly ridiculed by the Commander in Chief. The move undermines the professionalism and independence of the military justice system.
These awards are given to both prosecutors and defense counsel for performing their roles in the criminal justice system. Trump simply declared the awards “ridiculous” because he opposed any prosecution for Gallagher — a position rejected by many in the military.
One of the prosecutors, Brian John, had to take over the difficult case when the former lead prosecutor was removed.
Gallagher was acquitted of the murder charge, along with other charges of attempted murder of two noncombatants, Gallagher was convicted of wrongful posing for an unofficial picture with a human casualty.
Trump’s public stance on the case was itself problematic since presidents have avoided any such comments or actions on pending prosecutions. However, this seems just vindictive and retaliatory against military lawyers who were doing their job.