If there’s anything upon which Donald Trump is keenly focused, it’s how his powerful he appears to his base. Commander Bone Spurs appears to have found a comfortable groove, transcending the role of leader, and instead, taking up the role of Cheerleader in Chief for the U.S. military. And while enthusiasm for our armed forces is an unquestionably good thing, Trump has turned “support” into something truly nefarious: blind, unqualified immunity from consequences.
Trump has been so outspoken about accused war criminals such as Eddie Gallagher and Mathew L. Golsteyn that the military is impotent when it comes to policing its own people. High-ranking officers within in the American military are now talking about the “Gallagher Effect” – the disastrous way Trump’s military fervor is preventing the armed forces from demanding accountability from wrongdoers.
Gallagher was a Navy SEAL who faced life imprisonment for shooting civilians, including a school-age girl, and knifing to death a captured ISIS fighter receiving medical treatment. Gallagher was also accused of threatening individuals who might have been tempted to report his crimes. Despite any efforts to the contrary, Gallagher was reported and was prosecuted for murder. At every stage, Donald Trump was there to interfere. There were talks of pardons, sharing of lawyers, and tweets of support. And Trump’s wish came true: Gallagher ultimately faced no consequences.
During Gallagher’s trial, the prosecution’s case fell apart when SO1 Corey Scott delivered surprise testimony that he himself had actually been responsible for the death of Gallagher’s alleged victim. The Navy had been investigating Scott for perjury in connection with the Gallagher matter, but that was ended soon after Trump publicly inserted himself into the story.
After Gallagher’s acquittal, Trump bragged and reminded us that he was the one who helped Gallagher avoid confinement.
Congratulations to Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, his wonderful wife Andrea, and his entire family. You have been through much together. Glad I could help!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2019
In fact, Trump was so unconcerned about any appearance of partiality that he even ordered the prosecutors in the case stripped of medals they had received.
The Prosecutors who lost the case against SEAL Eddie Gallagher (who I released from solitary confinement so he could fight his case properly), were ridiculously given a Navy Achievement Medal. Not only did they lose the case, they had difficulty with respect….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2019
A Navy officer directly involved with the Gallagher case spoke anonymously with the New York Times on Friday, saying the president’s tweets have had a direct effect on decision-making of individuals in a position to deliberate about punishments. “People want to hold these guys accountable,” the officer said. “But they are afraid that if you do anything, minutes later there will be a tweet from the White House, and the officer in charge will get axed.”
And Trump’s interest isn’t just in Gallagher. The president appears to be against holding military personnel accountable for misconduct as a general principle — particularly when the “misconduct” is homicide.
The case of Major Mathew Golsteyn is now under review at the White House. Mathew is a highly decorated Green Beret who is being tried for killing a Taliban bombmaker. We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill! @PeteHegseth
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2019
Two years after after the death of a Taliban bomb-maker in Afghanistan, Golsteyn appeared on a FOX News and admitted to killing the man. The interview sparked what became a controversial investigation of Golsteyn about which President Trump could not resist opining.
At least some military personnel are fighting back. Commander Edward Mason and Master Chief Hugh Spangler are the decorated SEALs who took over after Gallagher was arrested. The Navy fired both, despite their unblemished records, citing “loss of confidence that resulted from leadership failures.” Mason and Spangler have now filed a complaint with the Navy’s inspector general, alleging that they were scapegoated as a result of the “Gallagher effect” pervading the Navy.
[Image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.