On CNN Monday, retired Rear Adm. John Kirby laid into President Donald Trump for firing Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to shut down the investigation into pardoned war criminal Eddie Gallagher, who was convicted of posing with the corpse of a teenage prisoner he had allegedly stabbed to death with his hunting knife.
"I've spoken to Navy officers who said they this happens all the time for far lesser issues," said anchor Jim Sciutto. "One brought up the case of someone lying on a test. How concerning is it that the Navy wasn't even allowed the discretion to make a decision on that relatively small disciplinary step?"
"Very deeply concerning, Jim," said Kirby. "Again, we're talking about an administrative review process. The Navy SEALs do this all the time, and people get their trident pins revoked for much less than what Gallagher has not only been alleged to have done, but actually convicted of doing, and here's the other thing, Jim, there are three other SEALs that are going through this same review process on their trident pins as Gallagher was, those three other SEALs that were in the same photos. Now what does the Navy do about those guys? They don't have high-paid lawyers. They don't have the president or commander in chief weighing in on their behalf. But if they're going to exonerate Gallagher for this same offense and let him retire with his trident pin, what do they do about those other three? And then, more, writ large, what message does this send to the SEAL community?"
"I want to get to that question, because this speaks to a broad range of behaviors here," said Sciutto. "Again, I've spoken to military commanders and others who worry because they take the law seriously, right. They want soldiers on the battlefield, it is difficult, but follow the law. This goes to chain of command and discipline and goes to how U.S. allies see U.S. forces deployed abroad. You've dealt with these issues for years. Describe to people how, you know, the sort of odd fact that Gallagher stays and Spencer is gone now, how does the rank and file read that?"
"I think there's some worrisome conclusions that some in the rank and file might take away from this, that if you have a high paid lawyer, if the commander in chief is on your side, you can flout discipline," said Kirby. "Yesterday, Gallagher was on Fox & Friends disparaging Rear Adm. Green, the commander of the SEAL forces. That was an incredible moment. There's going to be real concern by commanders across the force about what this says for their ability to execute good order and discipline inside their ranks. Also, you brought it up just briefly in what you said, Jim, there's a message here to allies and partners, if we exonerate this kind of behavior, if we're able to whistle past that graveyard, how can they trust when they have American boots on their ground conducting operations in their countries, that we have the ability and the forthrightness to hold our troops accountable for what is, essentially, war crimes."
"I remember the deep concern after the Abu Ghraib scandal," said Sciutto. "This is about how U.S. forces operate on the battlefield, and part of the soft power, of course, is that U.S. forces follow the law where others may not."
"Follow the law, and stand for values that are greater than just ourselves," agreed Kirby.