SAN DIEGO (AP) – One of the US military’s most significant war crimes cases ended with a decorated Navy SEAL walking out of court a free man after acknowledging moral and ethical mistakes, including posing in photographs with the body of an Islamic State (IS) captive he was cleared of killing.
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher will spend no time in jail for the only charge he was convicted of – posing with a human casualty – despite being given the maximum sentence of four months’ confinement for the offence on Wednesday by a military jury.
That’s because it is less than the time he was held in custody before the trial.
The jury also called for his rank to be reduced, hurting his pension and benefits just as the 19-year-veteran prepares to retire. Gallagher turned to his wife, shook his head and pretended to unpin his “anchors” – the insignia of a chief – and fling them across the courtroom. He then smiled and hugged her.
While the outcome was a major blow to the Navy’s prosecution, it is expected to have lasting effects on the culture of special operations forces.
The fact that Gallagher escaped prison may discourage future reporting, while others see the case sending a different message.
“It will be a cautionary lesson for all special operations that they’re not beyond the law and that’s a lesson that’s valuable in and of itself,” said former Marine Corps prosecutor Gary Solis, who teaches military law at Georgetown.
Naval Special Warfare Commander Rear Adm. Collin Green said the SEAL community “will learn from this experience through critical self-examination and be better for it.”