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Navy Officer Pardoned For War Crimes Is Expected To Be Removed From SEALs


Turning now to another story - the nation's top Navy SEAL has a message for fellow SEALs and maybe for the White House. The elite military force will decide on its own who meets its standards. A few days ago, President Trump cleared a SEAL who had been accused of war crimes and convicted of posing with a captive's corpse. Now Rear Adm. Collin Green is making moves to oust that SEAL and three others. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is here in the studio with more.

Hi, Tom.


SHAPIRO: First, tell us about the SEAL, Eddie Gallagher. Recap his case for us.

BOWMAN: Well, Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL, was acquitted of killing an Iraqi teenager with a hunting knife and other charges. He was convicted, as you say, of a minor charge - of posing with a captive's corpse. He was reduced in rank. And President Trump, of course, last week, ordered the military to restore his rank to chief petty officer. The president noted in his statement that Gallagher had been awarded a Bronze Star for valor and was being assigned to an important position as an instructor.

SHAPIRO: So seemingly in response to President Trump's action, what is the top Navy SEAL, Rear Adm. Green, talking about doing now?

BOWMAN: Well, they're talking about removing the trident, the symbol of the Navy SEAL. It's a great honor to have the trident, just like it is to wear the Army's green beret. And it might not mean much for Gallagher, who perhaps will retire. But there were three other SEALs involved here who - they may remove their tridents as well - who oversaw Gallagher. And removing their tridents would mean they are no longer SEALs, of course, and would either retire or maybe have to find other jobs in the Navy.

And so the process is, starting December 2, there'll be a review board meeting, I'm told, to decide on the tridents. And it appears again, the top SEAL commander, Adm. Collin Green, clearly wants to send a message about wrongdoing. And he has the support of the top leaders in the Pentagon.

But here's the thing, Ari. We're hearing indications that Gallagher and maybe another of those SEALs will appeal directly to the White House in an effort to stop this process. And President Trump, as commander in chief, of course, has the power to overturn this and make sure those SEALs still continue to wear the trident.

SHAPIRO: So a back and forth and back and forth - just to give us some context, beyond these SEALs, there are other high-profile similar cases. President Trump cleared two Army officers, including one who was in jail for ordering his men to kill unarmed Afghans.

BOWMAN: That's right. Lt. Clint Lorance, who served six years of a 19-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas - his own soldiers testified against him, Ari. And also Maj. Matt Golsteyn, who is set to stand trial in February - he was implicated in the killing of an alleged Afghan bombmaker back in 2010.

SHAPIRO: When you talk to people in the military, what do they say is going on here? How do they explain this?

BOWMAN: Well, they're really worried about it. There are concerns about it. Both the active and retired community - they're saying that maybe there's something going on here, not maintaining the standards of conduct, that noncommissioned officers and junior officers are not holding their troops accountable. So they're asking, you know, what's going on here? Is it too many deployments for these service members, too many firefights, seeing their friends killed? People are really concerned about it.

SHAPIRO: And the impact of these pardons, these exonerations from President Trump.

BOWMAN: That's a concern as well. And I'm told that the senior officers have set up an advisory board within the special operations community to look at the culture and the leadership in the community and to decide, are there overall problems? What can we do about it? Is it leadership problems, training? But they want to get to the bottom of it.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

Thank you for your coverage, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHIL FRANCE'S "THE SWIMMER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.