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Trump and Navy clash again over US commando accused of war crimes

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher walks out of military court during lunch recess on July 2, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Getty Images)

US President Donald Trump vowed on Thursday he would not allow a Navy special operations soldier convicted of war crimes to be expelled from the elite commando force, once again clashing with senior Navy officials over the high-profile case.

The US Navy on Wednesday notified Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher that he will face a review early next month to determine if he should remain on the elite force.

Gallagher, 40, was formally notified on Wednesday that he was the subject of a “trident review board” hearing set for December 2.

In a tweet on Thursday, Trump wrote that the Navy “will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” once again intervening in an ongoing legal review of the sailor’s ability to hold onto the pin that designates him a SEAL.

“This case was handled very badly from the beginning” and he urged those involved to “Get back to business!” Trump tweeted.

It’s unclear what effect Trump’s tweet could have on the process and whether he can actually block the review from taking place or overturn any decision made.

Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, a Navy spokesman in Washington, issued a statement Thursday evening indicating the Navy was looking for a formal directive, as opposed to a presidential tweet.

“The Navy follows the lawful orders of the President,” he said. “We are aware of the President’s tweet and we are awaiting further guidance.”

A US military jury in July convicted Gallagher of illegally posing for pictures with the corpse of a Daesh (ISIS) detainee while deployed to Iraq in 2017 but acquitted him of murder in the prisoner’s death.

He was sentenced to a demotion in rank and pay, but not prison time.

Trump last Friday restored Gallagher’s rank and pay, allowing him to retire on a full pension, while pardoning two US Army officers who were separately accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.

Critics said Trump’s actions undermined military justice and sent a message that battlefield atrocities would be tolerated.

Gallagher has insisted that the accusations against him were fabricated by disgruntled, inexperienced subordinates who objected to his leadership style and tactics.

Trump's exoneration of soldiers accused of war crimes has sent a disturbing message to the world, Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said last week.

Colville said the international body was very concerned about the pardons given by Trump, which were "serious violations" of international law.    

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