ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (Reuters) – The top U.S. general said on Monday that as far as he was concerned the case of a Navy SEAL convicted of battlefield misconduct in Iraq was now closed, a day after Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired the Navy’s top civilian over the saga.
Esper fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Sunday over his handling of the sailor in question, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher.
“I think at this point the secretary of defense has made decisions (and) the case is now, in my view, it is closed,” Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a small group of reporters. He was speaking during a trip to the Middle East.
He added that the hiring and firing of civilian leadership at the Pentagon was out of his purview as the top U.S. general.
“(Esper) has made decisions for good reasons, that are within his power to make decisions, and I’ll support the secretary of defense in those decisions,” Milley said.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who publicly opposed taking away Gallagher’s Trident pin and had intervened in the case to restore his rank, cheered the moves.
“The secretary of defense, President of the United States, are all part of the process and made a decision, as far as I’m concerned, it is case closed now and it is time to move on and address the national security of the United States,” Milley said.
Spencer last week suggested a possible split with Trump by telling Reuters that Gallagher should still face a peer review board.
The SEAL was acquitted by a military jury in July of murdering a captured and wounded Islamic State fighter in Iraq by stabbing him in the neck, but it convicted him of illegally posing with the detainee’s corpse. That had led to his rank being reduced.
The White House said in November that Trump had restored Gallagher’s rank and had pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan. Critics had said such actions would undermine military justice and sent a message that battlefield atrocities will be tolerated.
Milley said he believed that the U.S. military remained a disciplined force.
“This case obviously raises a variety of questions, but in the main, I think the United States military remains and will always remain a very highly disciplined force.”
(Story refiles to reinstate Trump’s first name and title)
Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean