By Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy SEAL whose rank was recently restored by President Donald Trump following a court-martial is now facing a bid by Navy brass to remove him from the SEALs, U.S. officials and his lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday.
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, 40, was accused of committing war crimes while deployed to Mosul in Iraq in 2017.
In July, a military jury acquitted him of charges he murdered a captured Islamic State fighter by stabbing the wounded prisoner in the neck, but it convicted him of illegally posing with the detainee's corpse.
While such an offense carries a maximum sentence of four months imprisonment, Gallagher was instead demoted in rank and pay grade.
Last week, Trump restored Gallagher's rank and pay to chief petty officer, and pardoned two Army officers separately accused of war crimes in Afghanistan. Critics said Trump's moves undermined military justice and sent a message that battlefield atrocities would be tolerated.
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Gallagher and three other SEALs are likely to be notified on Wednesday that they must appear before a board that will decide whether they should be stripped of their SEAL status.
Officials said that process could take weeks, but the decision to review Gallagher's status had the support of senior Navy leaders.
If Gallagher is removed from the elite SEALs, he would either have to retire or find a different position in the Navy.
Reached by telephone late on Tuesday, Gallagher's civilian lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, told Reuters the move to take away Gallagher's Trident pin designating him as a SEAL was being driven by Naval Special Warfare commander Rear Admiral Collin Green.
'SUICIDAL POWER PLAY'
Parlatore said he had filed an inspector general's complaint accusing Green of defying the commander-in-chief in an act of insubordination, for which Parlatore said the admiral himself could be court-martialed.
"He's making some suicidal power play against the president," Parlatore said of Green. "He has to know this is the death knell for his career. He's chosen this hill to die on."
The Navy Times newspaper, which covers news in the armed forces, reported Gallagher's Special Warfare superiors planned to meet with him in California on Wednesday morning to inform him that a Trident Review Board has been convened.
In a meeting with his staff on Monday, Green "made clear his contempt of the president and disagreement with the president's decision" and "declared he intended to remove ... Gallagher's trident anyway," according to the 16-page complaint, a copy of which was posted online by the Navy Times.
"It is incomprehensible to understand how, given the commander in chief’s clear guidance" that Green "thinks it is appropriate to countermand this and increase the punishment," the complaint said. "Moreover, no flag officer should ever be speaking contemptuously of the commander in chief in front of his subordinates."
Naval Special Warfare spokeswoman Captain Tamara Lawrence disputed as "patently false" assertions that Green had expressed contempt for the president, the Times reported.
Trump's decision last Friday to restore Gallagher's rank marked the fourth time the president has intervened or publicly commented directly on the Navy SEAL's case.
The outcome of three-week trial was a major legal victory for Gallagher, who would have faced a possible life sentence had he been convicted on the most serious charges he faced.
Still, the demotion was seen as a harsh rebuke for a career Navy combat veteran and two-time Bronze Star recipient who is nearing retirement after nearly two decades in the military.
Gallagher has insisted his accusers were disgruntled subordinates with no prior battlefield experience who fabricated allegations against him over grievances with his leadership style and tactics.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Lincoln Feast.)