The Navy on Wednesday canceled a peer-review process that would have determined if three Navy SEAL officers who supervised an enlisted SEAL convicted of posing with a dead teenage captive in Iraq should remain on the elite force.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the case was becoming a distraction for the commando force, known for its quiet professionalism.
The decision was the latest twist in the war crimes case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, which led to a conflict between President Donald Trump and armed services leaders over military discipline. The dispute peaked over the weekend with the firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer.
Gallagher and the three SEALs were notified last week that a board of peers would determine if they should remain SEALs.
Trump then ordered the Navy to allow Gallagher to retire as a SEAL with his full rank intact. That led to Spencer’s firing over his handling of the matter.
Gallagher was acquitted of murder in the fatal stabbing of an Islamic State militant captive in his care in Iraq in 2017 but convicted of posing with the corpse.
Trump made no mention of the three SEAL officers also ordered to be reviewed. All three had overseen Gallagher during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.
But Modly said there were better ways to address any “failures in conduct, performance, judgment, or professionalism exhibited by these officers.”
He directed the chief of naval operations to end the review process for Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, Lt. Jacob Portier and Lt. Thomas MacNeil.
“The United States Navy, and the Naval Special Warfare Community specifically, have dangerous and important work to do,” Modly said in a statement. “In my judgment, neither deserves the continued distraction and negative attention that recent events have evoked.”
Modley said his decision should not be interpreted as loosening the standards he expects of SEALs. He said ongoing efforts will continue to address problems within the SEAL community, which has had numerous allegations of misconduct in recent months.
“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.
Portier was Gallagher’s platoon commander and was charged with failing to report the killing of the captive. He denied the charges and they were dropped after the jury acquitted Gallagher of murder.
Portier’s attorney, Jeremiah Sullivan, said Portier was happy to learn he would be allowed to keep his trident, a pin designating SEAL status.
“Lt. Portier is extremely grateful for the unwavering support of President Trump,” Sullivan said.
Attorneys for Breisch and MacNeil did not immediately respond to requests for comment.