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U.S. defense secretary fires Navy chief over handling of SEAL saga

In this July 16, 2019, photo, acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer listens during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington.

In this July 16, 2019, photo, acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer listens during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington.   | Photo Credit: AP

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired the Navy's top civilian after losing confidence in him over his handling of the high-profile case of a Navy SEAL convicted of battlefield misconduct in Iraq, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

Mr. Esper also determined that the sailor in question, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, should be allowed to retain his Trident pin designating him as a SEAL - effectively ending the Navy's efforts to carry out a peer review that could have led to his ouster from the elite force.

President Donald Trump had publicly opposed taking away Mr. Gallagher's Trident pin. Mr. Trump had already intervened in Gallagher's case earlier this month, using his authority to restore the decorated officer's rank and pay and allow him to retire later this year on a full pension.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer made headlines last week for suggesting a possible split with Mr. Trump by saying Mr. Gallagher should face a peer review board.

But Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Mr. Spencer also had a private line of communications with the White House.

“Secretary Spencer had previously and privately proposed to the White House - contrary to Spencer's public position - to restore Gallagher's rank and allow him to retire with his Trident pin,” Hoffman said.

Mr. Spencer never informed Mr. Esper of his private proposal, Hoffman said.

Mr. Esper decided to ask for Mr. Spencer's resignation after “losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House,” Hoffman said.

Mr. Gallagher, 40, was demoted in rank and pay grade after being convicted by a military jury in July of illegally posing for pictures with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter.

On Nov. 15, the White House said in a statement that Mr. Trump had restored Mr. Gallagher's rank and had pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan. Critics had said such actions would undermine military justice and send a message that battlefield atrocities will be tolerated.

In an appearance on Fox News Channel on Sunday, Mr. Gallagher indicated that he hoped to retire next Saturday, “without the board” convening to decide whether he could continue to be a SEAL, considered among the most elite of U.S. fighting forces.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 2:50:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/us-defense-secretary-fires-navy-chief-over-handling-of-seal-saga/article30072735.ece

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