President Donald Trump has ordered Pentagon officials to rescind medals awarded last month to military lawyers who unsuccessfully prosecuted a Navy SEAL for war crimes in the death of an Islamic State prisoner.
Trump, in a series of tweets Wednesday, said the medals were “ridiculously” given to military prosecutors involved in the court-martial against former Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, whose trial ended in acquittal on all but one charge: posing for a photo with the body of the dead Islamic State fighter.
“Not only did they lose the case, they had difficulty with respect [...] to information that may have been obtained from opposing lawyers and for giving immunity in a totally incompetent fashion,” Trump said of the prosecution team.
“I am very happy for Eddie Gallagher and his family!” Trump continued.
Prosecutors Brian P. John, George O. Hageman, Scott I. McDonald and an unnamed fourth attorney were recognized with Navy Achievement Medals at a July 10 ceremony in San Diego, California, military news sites Task and Purpose and the Navy Times reported. The medals honored the team’s “expert litigation on constitutional issues” and “superb results,” even though a jury’s verdict favored Gallagher.
Trump announced his highly unusual decision after The New York Times reported that he gave the order on Tuesday. The Office of the Secretary of the Navy and the Department of Defense did not return HuffPost’s requests for comment.
The most serious charge against Gallagher ― premeditated murder ― could have landed him behind bars for life. Several SEAL team members testified that Gallagher used a knife to kill a teenage captive Islamic State fighter who’d been brought to Gallagher’s outpost in Iraq for medical treatment. Prosecutors also charged him with shooting two noncombatants ― a young girl and an elderly man.
The prosecution case was hobbled, however, when the lead prosecutor was booted for allegedly surveilling defense attorneys’ email correspondence. Then the trial was upended when a SEAL medic testified that it was him, not Gallagher, who killed the wounded enemy fighter.
Special Operator First Class Corey Scott told the courtroom that he watched Gallagher stab the teenage Islamic State fighter in the neck, but that the injury did not appear fatal. Scott said he “knew [the teen] was going to die anyway,” so he suffocated him as an act of mercy.
The case has long been a rallying point for conservative media and politicians such as Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) who fervently defended the Navy SEAL in the lead-up to his trial.
Gallagher, a decorated career veteran, drew special attention from Trump even before his trial, when the president ordered his release from a military brig to confinement at a Navy base. Trump’s also reportedly considered pardoning Gallagher, as well as others facing war crimes charges, which caused an intense backlash from senior military officials who felt it sent a dangerous message of impunity. Gallagher was arrested in 2018.
The president congratulated him when the jury reached its verdict last month, writing on Twitter, “Glad I could help!”
Nick Robins-Early contributed reporting to this article.