Navy SEAL prosecutors to be stripped of achievement medals

WASHINGTON (AP) — Navy officials said Wednesday they are pulling achievement medals from prosecutors who argued the case against a decorated Navy SEAL who was acquitted in the death of a wounded Islamic State captive after President Donald Trump intervened.

Trump tweeted earlier Wednesday that he had directed the secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval operations to "immediately withdraw and rescind" the Navy Achievement Medal from prosecutors who argued the case against Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who was acquitted by military jurors earlier this month.

"The Prosecutors who lost the case against SEAL Eddie Gallagher (who I released from solitary confinement so he could fight his case properly), were ridiculously given a Navy Achievement Medal," Trump complained, adding, "I am very happy for Eddie Gallagher and his family!"

RELATED: Trial of Navy Seal Edward Gallagher

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Trial of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher
FILE - In this Thursday, May 30, 2019, file photo, Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher leaves a military courtroom on Naval Base San Diego with his wife, Andrea Gallagher, in San Diego. Edward Gallagher, who has been charged with allegedly killing an Islamic State prisoner in his care and attempted murder for the shootings of two Iraq civilians in 2017, is scheduled to go on trial Monday, June 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Julie Watson, File)
Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, right, walks with his wife, Andrea Gallagher as they arrive to military court on Naval Base San Diego, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in San Diego. Jury selection continued Tuesday morning in the court-martial of the decorated Navy SEAL, who is accused of stabbing to death a wounded teenage Islamic State prisoner and wounding two civilians in Iraq in 2017. He has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder, charges that carry a potential life sentence. (AP Photo/Julie Watson)
Edward Gallagher, a US Navy Special Operations Chief facing murder trial in the death of an Islamic State prisoner, leaves a military courtroom on Naval Base San Diego after a military judge cited interference by prosecutors, graphic element on gray
Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, left, hugs his wife, Andrea Gallagher, after leaving a military courtroom on Naval Base San Diego, Thursday, May 30, 2019, in San Diego. The decorated Navy SEAL facing a murder trial in the death of an Islamic State prisoner was freed Thursday from custody after a military judge cited interference by prosecutors. (AP Photo/Julie Watson)
U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher's defense attorney Tim Parlatore speaks to the media after opening arguments in the soldier's court-martial trial at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California , U.S., June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake
U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher leaves court with his wife Andrea, her name tattooed on his wrist, after the first day of jury selection at this court-martial trial at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California , U.S., June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Former U.S. army member King Cohn arrives at court to support U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher during the first day of jury selection at the court-martial trial at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California , U.S., June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake
The entrance to the courthouse at Naval Base San Diego is shown where jury selection begins in the court-martial trial of U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher in San Diego, California , U.S., June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Defence attorney Timothy Parlatore, representing US Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, speaks with reporters at a pre-trial hearing for Gallagher's court martial for alleged war crimes in Iraq, in San Diego, California, U.S., May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton
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Navy spokesman Cdr. Jereal Dorsey said that on Wednesday, after Trump's tweet, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer rescinded the awards. As secretary, he has that authority, Dorsey said.

The move appeared to be a highly unusual presidential intervention in a case Trump had personally championed and drew immediate condemnation. Former Pentagon spokesman David Lapan, a retired Marine colonel, said the move represented the "further politicization of our military" and was a "ludicrous" move "in the face of so many more important and pressing personnel issues."

The military publication Task & Purpose first reported that, after Gallagher was found not guilty, members of the U.S. government team that prosecuted him were awarded medals for their "superb results" and "expert litigation."

Ten awards were given out earlier in July to members of the team and people associated with the case by the Navy's Region Southwest Legal Service Office in San Diego, seven Navy achievement medals and three letters of accommodations.

Trump in his tweets complained that the prosecutors not only lost their case, but also "had difficulty with respect...to information that may have been obtained from opposing lawyers and for giving immunity in a totally incompetent fashion."

Gallagher's trial came after a judge removed the lead prosecutor over a bungled effort that used software to track emails sent to defense lawyers in order to find the source of leaks to the media.

The judge determined the effort violated Gallagher's constitutional rights and, before the case went to trial, reduced the maximum possible punishment for the murder charge from life in prison without parole to the possibility of parole.

Defense lawyers had argued that Gallagher was framed by junior disgruntled platoon members who fabricated the allegations to oust their chief. The prosecution said Gallagher was incriminated by his own text messages and photos, including one of him holding the dead militant up by the hair and clutching a knife in his other hand. Several SEALs testified that Gallagher stabbed the militant, including two who said they saw Gallagher plunge the knife into his neck.

In the end, the jury of five Marines and two sailors — all war zone veterans — acquitted Gallagher of murder, attempted murder and other charges in the killing of the Islamic State captive — dealing a major blow to one of the Navy's most high-profile war crimes cases.

He was convicted of a single count of posing with a human casualty and given the maximum sentence of four months' confinement for the offense.

Gallagher will serve no jail time because he spent nearly nine months in pre-trial custody. The jury also called for his rank to be reduced, hurting his benefits just as the 19-year veteran prepares to retire.

His lawyers say they will fight the sentencing.

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Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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