Trial Of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher Comes To An End
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher is being demoted for posing in a photo with a dead ISIS fighter in Iraq back in 2017. This is a loss of rank and pay and a far cry from the more severe punishment he would've gotten if the jury had found him guilty of murder.
Gallagher went on Fox News this morning to thank some of those who stood by him throughout his war crimes trial.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")
EDDIE GALLAGHER: I want to say thank you to Congressman Duncan Hunter and Congressman Ralph Norman, and also to President Trump for intervening when he did.
KELLY: That's right. President Trump called for Gallagher to be moved out of the brig where he was held before the trial and floated the idea of a presidential pardon, one of many twists in Gallagher's trial.
We're joined now by Colonel Gary Solis. He is a former military judge and Marine Corps prosecutor. Colonel Solis, welcome.
GARY SOLIS: Thank you.
KELLY: So to remind people, Gallagher started out accused of killing a wounded ISIS fighter who'd been taken prisoner. He was also accused of shooting at unarmed civilians in Iraq. He was acquitted of all of that. The jury just convicted him of posing in this photo with the dead body.
In your view, was justice served?
SOLIS: Well, that's a difficult question to answer. In my view as a former trial lawyer and military judge, the question is not, was justice served, but, could the government prove its case? And the government could not. So since the government could not prove its case, I think that the verdict was just.
KELLY: In terms of the government's attempts to prove its case, among the pieces of evidence introduced were several members of Gallagher's platoon testifying they had seen Gallagher stab the prisoner. Gallagher himself bragged in a text and photo about using his knife on the prisoner. He later said that was a joke.
Setting aside whether justice was served, what message does this send to people serving in the military now?
SOLIS: Well, I'm not sure that the evidence is what the message will be. I think the message will be that special operators - be they Delta, be they SEALs - are reminded that there is law on the battlefield. And I think that is a good thing. It's not that they have ever felt they were above the law, but I think it is a good thing that they are reminded that there is law, and it's looking over their shoulder.
We have to remember that though we are specially trained and specially capable, the law still applies to us. And I'm not sure that it applied to Gallagher fully, but that doesn't matter, all right? I think that's the lesson.
KELLY: What do you mean when you say you're not sure it applied to him fully?
SOLIS: Well, I don't mean to - I don't know how I would've voted were I on the jury, but they were in the room, and I wasn't, and so I respect their judgment.
KELLY: May I turn you to the issue of President Trump's involvement, which extended to today? He was tweeting his congratulations to Gallagher and said, glad I - what is the significance of the commander in chief stepping into a military trial in this way?
SOLIS: Well, you never like to see somebody who has jurisdiction - that is, who has power over an accused or the jurors or the judges - stepping into a case. Unlawful command influence is anathema to the military. We never want to see any unlawful command influence, which was a real problem in World War II and before.
KELLY: Do you think this was unlawful command influence?
SOLIS: Well, a military judge didn't. So I think that the president certainly stepped up towards the line earlier on in the trial - not today, of course. Trial's over. But, yes, while the trial was in progress, I think that there was a shade of influence there.
KELLY: A shade of influence. And just briefly, is there precedent for that?
SOLIS: For the president having done it?
KELLY: Not on Twitter, but briefly, in times past?
SOLIS: I can't think of one offhand. I'm sure there is. Every time I say that this is the first time it's ever happened, it's pointed out to me how many other times it has.
KELLY: You're stepping onto dangerous ground.
KELLY: OK, that's Colonel Gary Solis, former military judge who now teaches military law at Georgetown University, and also at West Point. Thanks so much for coming in.
SOLIS: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.