The acting secretary of the Navy has called off review boards that would have determined whether three SEAL officers who supervised Special Operations Chief Eddie Gallagher should retain their tridents.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly announced on Wednesday that he directed Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday to terminate review boards for Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch and Lts. Jacob Portier and Thomas MacNeil.
The three SEAL officers served as Gallagher's leaders. Gallagher, who is set to retire this weekend, was acquitted of murder in a July court-martial, but found guilty of posing for a photo with a casualty.
In a lengthy statement about his decision, Modly attributed the move to the "unique circumstances" of the cases, adding that he wanted to prevent further distractions and negative attention to the Naval Special Warfare community.
"I have determined that any failures in conduct, performance, judgment, or professionalism exhibited by these officers be addressed through other administrative measures as appropriate, such as letters of instruction or performance observations on their officer fitness reports," Modly said.
He became the acting civilian head of the Navy on Sunday after SecNav Richard V. Spencer was ousted from the job, in part over how he handled Gallagher's case.
Breisch commanded Gallagher and Portier during their 2017 Iraq deployment. MacNeil was one of the most junior officers in Gallagher's platoon. He was one of the SEALs who reported Gallagher for murder and testified at his trial, where it was revealed that MacNeil violated regulations by drinking in Iraq, The New York Times reported.
Modly said the SEAL community is a unique fighting force that has been at war for nearly 20 years. They have dangerous and important work to do, he said.
He went onto defend his decision to cancel the boards, saying it should not be interpreted as diminishing the ethos U.S. troops are expected to uphold.
"Navy uniformed leaders have my full confidence that they will continue to address challenging cultural issues within the Naval Special Warfare community, instill good order and discipline, and enforce the very highest professional standards we expect from every member of that community," he said. "These are standards that scores of brave Sailors have given their lives to establish and preserve."
Gallagher was set to face the same type of review board on Dec. 2. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said this week that President Donald Trump ordered him to cancel that review board.
Tim Parlatore, Gallagher’s lawyer, said earlier this week that he was concerned the Navy was sending at least some of the officers before review boards because they testified on Gallagher’s behalf. If the Navy was then moving to take their tridents away, Parlatore called it witness retaliation.
Modly said it is the Navy's obligation to honor the nation's values "in everything we do in peace, in crisis, but most especially in war."
"We can, we must, and we will get this right," he said.