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Topline: A former sniper who served in the same platoon as embattled Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher said the months-long conflict between the military’s top leaders and President Donald Trump over Gallagher’s war crimes case has “turned into a national clown show that put a bad light on the teams.”
- Speaking publicly for the first time in an interview with the New York Times, former sniper Chris Shumake said Gallagher’s case “has blown up bigger than any of us could have ever expected, and turned into a national clown show that put a bad light on the teams,” adding that Trump is “trying to show he has the troops’ backs, but he’s saying he doesn’t trust any of the troops or their leaders to make the right decisions.”
- Shumake’s sentiment is shared by other current and former military leaders, who disagreed with Trump and wanted to see Gallagher face a Navy review board to determine whether he would be demoted. Gallagher was acquitted of murdering a young ISIS fighter but was convicted of taking a photo with his corpse earlier this year.
- Senior military officials were eventually overruled by the president when he ordered Defense Secretary Mark Esper to let Gallagher keep his rank, laying bare tensions between the commander-in-chief and his own military that led to the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer.
- Trump’s intervention in the case, Spencer told CBS News after his ouster, sends a message that war criminals inside the U.S. military “can get away things.” In a Washington Post op-ed, Spencer said “the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.”
- Gallagher has maintained his innocence and said the Pentagon’s top leaders are acting to serve their own ego. One retired general said in a Fox News op-ed that Gallagher didn’t deserve such “aggressive prosecution.”
Key background: Gallagher’s extraordinary case has consumed the Navy since he was acquitted of murder in July. Members of his own platoon accused Gallagher of fatally stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter and shooting two civilians—a girl wearing a flower-print hijab and an old man—in Iraq in 2017.
While he wasn’t convicted of murder, a jury of military service members did find him guilty of taking a photo with a dead ISIS fighter, captioning the picture in text messages: “I’ve got a cool story for you when I get back. I’ve got my knife skills on.” and “Good story behind this. Got him with my hunting knife.”
Some members of Gallagher’s platoon started privately calling him “el diablo,” or the devil, the New York Times reported.