Trump fires US navy chief who opposed his Iraq war-crime pardon

Trump fires US navy chief who opposed his Iraq war-crime pardon
Richard Spencer penned a searing resignation letter to Donald Trump, after the president intervened to reverse the demotion of a US Navy Seal accused of war crimes in Iraq.
3 min read
25 November, 2019
US Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was fired by Trump on Sunday [Getty]
The chief of the US Navy on Sunday lashed out at Donald Trump after being effectively sacked in a dispute over an elite SEAL commando whose demotion for misconduct was reversed by the president.

Richard Spencer was ousted as Navy Secretary on Sunday in a case that has shed light on the US military leadership’s frustration over Trump's interference in discipline cases.

"I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief [Trump] who appointed me, in regards to the key principles of good order and discipline," Spencer said in a stinging letter published by US media.

"I hereby acknowledge my termination as United States Secretary of the Navy."

The dispute concerns the case of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who was acquitted of war crimes charges after he stabbed a wounded Islamic State prisoner to death and attempted the murder of other civilians. 

However, he was convicted of a lesser charge - posing with the slain fighter's body in a group picture with other SEALs - and demoted one rank, from chief petty officer to petty officer first class.

On 15 November, Trump - the commander-in-chief of the US military - intervened to reverse the demotion handed down to Gallagher.

Gallagher's case had been championed by Fox News, which the US President follows closely.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that Gallagher had been "treated very badly" by the navy, and that Spencer had been asked to resign over the issue and over his alleged failure to address budget overruns.

"The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” he added, meaning he would not be expelled from the elite SEAL (Sea, Air, and Land) force.

"Eddie will retire peacefully with all of the honors that he has earned," Trump tweeted.

Defence Secretary Mark Esper said he had asked for Spencer's resignation "after losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candour over conversations with the White House", the Department of Defense said in a statement.

Esper said he was "deeply troubled by this conduct".

Trump undercuts military

The US Navy had launched a disciplinary procedure which could have strip Gallagher and three other members of his unit of their prestigious "Trident pins", effectively kicking them out of the SEAL force.

But Trump's interventions appeared to cut short that process.

The president this month also dismissed a second degree murder conviction against Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, who was six years into a 19-year term for ordering soldiers in 2012 to fire on three unarmed Afghan men on a motorcycle, two of whom died.

And he granted clemency to West Point graduate Matt Golsteyn, an ex-member of the elite US Army Green Berets, charged with premeditated murder in the shooting death of an alleged Taliban bomb-maker in 2010.

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