A member of the United States Navy SEALs is at the center of a national political controversy after President Donald Trump intervened in his disciplinary hearings and ordered the Navy not to eject him from the elite military unit.
Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was accused by men under his command of committing possible war crimes during his 2017 tour in Iraq. He was convicted of posing for photographs with the body of a teenage Islamic State captive in American custody and demoted from his position. However, Trump reversed the Navy decision and then ordered officials not to eject him from his unit.
The U.S. Navy's top civilian, Secretary Richard Spencer, was fired by the Defense Secretary over the matter on Sunday. Defense Chief Mark Esper said the secretary had been negotiating a secret deal over the SEAL's fate with the White House.
Pattern of behavior?
Gallagher has served in the U.S. Navy since 1999. He was one of few Navy medics ever to complete the Marines' demanding scout sniper school, according to the New York Times.
In 2017, members of Gallagher's platoon were concerned by what they saw while deployed with Gallagher, leading to an investigation and trial by the Navy.
The defense argued that Gallagher was being falsely accused by subordinates that did not like the chief petty officer's leadership style.
Members of his platoon said he shot at civilians in Iraq, including adolescent girls and old men.
"I shot more warning shots to save civilians from Eddie than I ever did at ISIS. I see an issue with that," Dalton Tolbert, a Navy SEAL sniper, wrote in a group chat called "The Sewing Circle."
The group chat was organized by members of Gallagher's platoon that were concerned by his actions.
Gallagher's other prominent charge was that he killed a captive teenage Islamic State fighter with a handmade custom blade. Under Geneva Convention protections governing war prisoners, the captive should have been protected from harm by the military as he was no longer a lawful target.
Navy Comander Jeff Pietrzyk said that Gallagher sent text messages that implicated the chief petty officer in the captive's death.
"I've got a cool story for you when I get back. I've got my knife skills on," read one of Gallagher's text messages.
"Good story behind this. Got him with my hunting knife," read another text.
Two Navy SEALs said they saw Gallagher stab the teenager.
However, Special Operator Corey Scott testified that Gallagher did not kill the teen. Scott, who is a medic, said he himself killed the captive by plugging the teenager's breathing tube with his thumb in an act of mercy.
Navy investigators said they would investigate Scott's testimony because it was contrary to statements of at least seven different Navy SEALs.
Gallagher was also accused of threatening service members that would report his alleged actions. Senior commanders of the platoon allegedly told complaining soldiers that they could have their careers sidetracked and elite status revoked.
Gallagher was acquitted on six of seven charges on July 2 by a jury in a military court. But he was convicted on the charge of "wrongfully posing for an unofficial picture with a human casualty." The charge is considered minor in comparison to other accusations.
The human casualty he was convicted of photographing was the same ISIS fighter Gallagher had been accused of killing. Witnesses say the chief read his reenlistment oath near the body.
That charge carried a maximum prison sentence of four months. Gallagher had already served eight months in jail, allowing him to be released.
He was also demoted from chief petty officer to petty officer first class.
According to testimony by a marine who worked with Gallagher, Sgt. Giorgio Kirylo, many members of the platoon took pictures with the dead combatant.
"[The picture] was our unofficial war trophy," said the marine.
Some veteran groups and conservative politicians and commentators called for Gallagher to have his rank restored.
Trump decided to intercede on Gallagher's behalf in March. The president had Gallagher removed from a Navy brig and transferred to a Navy hospital ahead of his trial.
In November, Trump remanded the decision by the court and reinstated Gallagher's rank.
"The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning," the president tweeted Thursday, "Get back to business!"
The Trident pin is awarded to soldiers who pass an intense and difficult test necessary to become Navy SEALS.
"You are a true leader and exactly what the military and this nation needs," Gallagher said in a statement thanking Trump. "God bless you and your family."
Gallagher will retire at the end of November, according to Esper.