WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Mark Esper declared Monday that President Donald Trump ordered him to stop a disciplinary review of a Navy SEAL accused of battlefield misconduct, an intervention that raised questions about America’s commitment to international standards for battlefield ethics.
Esper’s comments are the latest twist in the case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, which led to a conflict between Trump and armed services leaders over military discipline. The dispute peaked over the weekend with the firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer.
Gallagher was acquitted of murder in the stabbing death of an Islamic State militant captive but convicted by a military jury of posing with the corpse while in Iraq in 2017.
Esper initially favored allowing the Navy to proceed with a peer-review board which could have resulted in Gallagher losing his SEAL status, but he said he was obliged to follow Trump’s order. Still, Esper also directed the Pentagon’s legal office to review how service members are educated in the laws of armed conflict and trained to wartime behavioral standards.