This weekend, the Secretary of the Navy gave up his job after a dispute with President Donald Trump over plans to penalize a Navy SEAL charged with war crimes.
New York Times reporter Dave Philipps, who wrote about the case in April, noted “The biggest story in a war crimes case isn’t always the crime itself. Sometimes what the crime reveals about the culture and inner workings of a military unit is the real headline.”
That was what he thought when he learned that Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, the head of a Navy SEAL platoon, was charged with murdering civilians in Iraq. War crimes are easy to cover up, he wrote in a Times Insider column, where reporters share how they got the story.
So why had a popular chief who was almost eligible for retirement been turned in by several men in his own platoon for stabbing a captive teenager to death and gunning down civilians, including a young girl, with a sniper rifle?”
Philipps made a lot of calls but no one in the platoon would talk to him. Then, someone gave him more than 400 pages of confidential documents from the Navy’s criminal investigation. The headline on this story: Navy SEALS Were Warned Against Reporting Their Chief For War Crimes.
Reporting on special operations forces, which I’ve done repeatedly in the five years I’ve covered the military as a national correspondent, is not only difficult and time-consuming, but also often disappointing because you end up with so little. This was the mother lode…Page after page gave accounts of indiscriminate shooting and killing. There were jarring details, like a message scrawled on the wall of a sniper nest in Mosul, Iraq, that read, “Eddie G puts the laughter in Manslaughter.” (Photos contained on a hard drive seized by the Navy show the chief aiming sniper rifles and rocket launchers from rooftops in the city.) But just as disturbing, the report showed how rank-and-file SEALs said they had repeatedly reported their concerns to their chain of command — first the platoon chief, then the troop chief — and the command had not investigated.
He said that SEALs described Gallagher to investigators as a “legend” and a “golden boy” who could do little wrong in the eyes of superiors.
The men responsible for investigating him were also close comrades who had deployed with him. When the platoon made accusations, the leadership transferred the chief to a less important job, then downgraded what was going to be a Silver Star for heroism to a Bronze Star. But they did not initiate an investigation that would have opened their cloistered SEAL team to the larger Navy.
On the site Radical Compliance, Matt Kelly looks at the case in terms of “Management Override” — what “happens when a manager intervenes in a business process that has created some result the manager doesn’t like.”
Management override isn’t a bad thing, he writes, but there’s a way to do it. Kelly write that it is not the “governance trainwreck like what we just witnessed” with the Gallagher fiasco.
Last week’s impeachment hearing brought out a chorus of calls for outing the whistleblower. Two of the lawyers on our board explained in The Hill why that’s against the law.
If there was any doubt that the laws and regulations protecting the “confidentiality” of confidential informants also covers whistleblowers, that debate ended in 2002. In that year Congress explicitly amended the obstruction of justice laws to protect whistleblowers.
This is what the law says, word-for-word: “Whoever knowingly, with the intent to retaliate, takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing information to a law enforcement authority any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more then 10 years, or both.”