Navy Will Allow 3 SEALs Implicated In War Crimes Case Keep Their Trident Pins

Nov 27, 2019
Originally published on November 27, 2019 9:28 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Navy is letting three SEALs implicated in a war crimes case keep their Trident pins. These pins, which depict an eagle clutching a Trident pistol and anchor, identify sailors as members of the elite fighting force.

The Navy's decision is just the latest fallout after President Trump intervened in the case of another SEAL, Eddie Gallagher, who was accused of a war crime and convicted of a lesser offense. Trump ordered that the Navy let Gallagher keep his Trident pin. And now Gallagher is in the force, and the Navy secretary is out. NPR's Tom Bowman has been covering all of this and joins us now to talk about the latest developments.

Hey, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Alisa.

CHANG: So how did the Navy explain why they were allowing these other SEALs keep their Trident pins?

BOWMAN: Well, the acting Navy secretary, Thomas Modly, said in a statement that he directed the top admiral to basically cancel a review about whether they could keep those tridents. And he said neither the Navy nor the SEALs, quote, "deserves the continued distraction and negative attention that recent events have evoked."

CHANG: Oh, this is - so this decision came not even after a review. There was no review.

BOWMAN: There was no review. And he just put the statement out about a half hour ago. And he went on to say - acting Navy secretary - he went on to say that issues with conduct, performance or judgment with the three SEALs could be dealt with with letters of instruction or fitness reports. Now I'm told senior Navy leaders in the Pentagon aren't real happy about letting these SEALs keep their Tridents, but they also want to lay all this to rest, just get past it.

CHANG: Right. OK, well, just remind us, how are these three SEALs involved in the war crimes case that Eddie Gallagher was at the center of?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, they all oversaw Gallagher. You have Lt. Jacob Portier. He was originally charged with a variety of offenses concerning Gallagher's initial charge of killing a wounded ISIS fighter in Iraq in 2017 - charges including conduct unbecoming an officer, dereliction of duty, a failure to report war crimes, allegations against Gallagher.

And then you have Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, who witnesses say knew about Gallagher's misconduct earlier than indicated, but didn't take action. Finally, Lt. Thomas MacNeil. He was one of seven SEALs who testified against Gallagher, but along with Gallagher, had his picture taken with the dead ISIS fighter.

CHANG: Can you just put all of this in context for us because I know that you've reported on how the top Navy SEAL commander has been trying to reform a force that's seen repeated misconduct problems? How do you think this decision by the Navy about these three SEALs will affect that overall reform?

BOWMAN: Well, it's uncertain at this point. Adm. Green, who oversees, again, the Navy SEALs, is still trying to kill up - clean up SEAL behavior. He created this ethics review. Also, the overall Special Operations Command in Tampa created an advisory board just this past summer to review ethics and culture about leadership. And there were a lot of questions. Are leaders on the ground making sure the troops are held to high standards? Are they slipping in this regard after 18 years of war?

But here's the thing, Alisa. In the middle of all this, President Trump yesterday slammed those who opposed clearing all those convicted or charged with war crimes. And among the opposition, of course, privately to the president, were all top Pentagon leaders. And the president said at this rally in Florida, quote, "people can sit there in air-conditioned offices and complain, but it doesn't matter to me whatsoever."

CHANG: That's NPR's Tom Bowman.

Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Alisa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.