On July 3, a court martial panel at San Diego Naval Base returned a verdict on not guilty in the trial of SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher. Gallagher had been accused of premeditated murder, along with other charges in the death of an Iraqi insurgent. The trial was rife with prosecutorial misconduct (the prosecution team actually attempted to insert malware into the phones of defense attorneys to try to find out who was leaking counter-spin to the media) and a blinding level of stupidity (the key witness against Gallagher, testifying under a grant of immunity, testified that he, himself, not Gallagher, had killed the insurgent). All in all, the prosecution gave the impression that Gallagher had been targeted for destruction and the monomania by the Navy JAG office and the NCIS drove them to do just about anything they thought would get a guilty verdict. And like so many things, there was a President Trump angle. The story of Eddie Gallagher had caught his attention and he had toyed with the idea of issuing a pardon. When Gallagher was acquitted he got a tweet of congratulations:
Congratulations to Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, his wonderful wife Andrea, and his entire family. You have been through much together. Glad I could help!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2019
As is so often the case, particularly where Trump is concerned, the Navy JAG office doubled down and decided to show their disapproval of the verdict and of Trump by awarding the Navy Achievement Medal to four prosecutors in the case.
The Navy’s Region Legal Service Office in San Diego hosted an award ceremony on July 10 in one of its courtrooms for four attorneys and four legal support staffers involved in the Gallagher case, according to a motion filed in a companion case on July 19 by military attorneys representing Navy SEAL Lt. Jacob Portier, Gallagher’s former platoon commander.
The prosecution team all received Navy Achievement Medals, which “commended the trial teams’ ‘exceptional witness preparation,’ ‘expert litigation on constitutional issues,’ and ‘superb results,'” the motion said, apparently quoting from the award citations.
The motion also claimed that the RLSO Chief of Staff said words to the effect of “no matter the result, we were right to prosecute [Gallagher],” and “justice was done.”
Just two points. An achievement medal, no matter the service, is a nothingburger. When it was first introduced it was unofficially restricted to enlisted men and junior noncommissioned officers. But it gradually became a gimme handed out for bullsh** because the approval level is at the lieutenant colonel level. I had a couple of them but only wore them when I had to have my official photo taken because otherwise I had to give blow jobs down at the bus station for a couple of weeks to get my self respect back. But an acheivement medal under these circumstances is actually an affront against the awards system and the military justice system. Essentially, the commander authorizing these awards was saying that Gallagher was actually guilty and throwing the middle finger at the commander in chief. While the Navy’s chain of command let this slide, someone didn’t.
….to information that may have been obtained from opposing lawyers and for giving immunity in a totally incompetent fashion. I have directed the Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer & Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson to immediately withdraw and rescind the awards….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2019
This might very well be unprecedented but not in a bad way:
Other presidents have been dissatisfied with military prosecutors, but experts could not recall another instance in recent times when a commander in chief intervened so directly in a case like this. In other administrations, they said, any objections to medals would usually be expressed privately and resolved outside of public view.
“What makes this unusual is the president’s decision to do it through Twitter, thus making it a very public rebuke of everyone involved,” said Peter D. Feaver, a specialist on civilian-military relations at Duke University and former national security aide to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
“Of course, the president as commander in chief has the prerogative to give his rebukes however he wishes,” Mr. Feaver added, “but the approach President Trump has chosen to take seems calculated to inflame rather than calm the issue.”
This is actually hilarious. And the reactions by the #Resistance types was equally funny:
These are the awards I earned while serving my Country. The Navy Achievement, Good Conduct & Expeditionary Medal's. Sea Service Ribbon w/3 Bronze Stars & ESWS(Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist) pin.
I will gladly donate my medals to those who Trump rescinds. #NAVY pic.twitter.com/wNFRbPhC41
— Scott Huffman for Congress (@HuffmanForNC) August 1, 2019
Mighty courageous to donate your “I wuz there” ribbons. I hope you have actual ones somewhere.
On a serious note, the idea that a Navy commander, anywhere, would give awards for a failed prosecution, particularly one marred by misconduct, reeks of a sense of entitlement. To the extent this was brought on by President Trump’s interest in the case, it is a blatant case of insubordination and disrespect and the brainiac behind it should be hammered in a very public way. There is really no innocent explanation for these awards and it is a very good thing that President Trump stepped in to impose discipline where the Navy seemed unable or unwilling to do so.
Thousands of officers with Bronze Stars terrified after Trump rescinds four bullshit awards https://t.co/ILZGl8WFoP
— Duffel Blog (@DuffelBlog) August 1, 2019