A former Navy Seal accused of war crimes in Iraq has met Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort to thank him for personally intervening to stop military chiefs stripping him of his Trident pin.
Eddie Gallagher reportedly gave the president a gift from his time serving in the Battle of Mosul, when the serviceman allegedly repeatedly stabbed a prisoner of war with a hunting knife before posing for photos with his dead body.
The president’s controversial decision to intervene last month was seen as undercutting longstanding conventions about the Pentagon’s hierarchy.
Photos posted on Saturday to the Instagram account Mr Gallagher shares with his wife Andrea show the couple smiling alongside Mr Trump and first lady Melania.
“Finally got to thank the President and his amazing wife by giving them a little gift from Eddie’s deployment to Mosul,” said the post, which tagged the president and first lady, and used a hashtag to promote Mr Trump’s 2020 election campaign.
Mr Gallagher, a chief petty officer, is alleged to have attempted to kill civilians in Iraq as well as killing the Isis prisoner of war.
The purported murder of the Isis militant came during Mr Gallagher’s 2017 deployment to Iraq. After allegedly stabbing the man with his hunting knife, he sent a photo of himself to a friend in California, showing him holding the dead victim’s head by the hair.
“Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife,” Mr Gallagher wrote in a text message.
Months later, in March of 2018, seven members of the Seal’s platoon approached their commander to inform him of their colleague’s alleged actions — which also included shooting an elderly man and a schoolgirl from a sniper roost.
But, instead of immediately facing an investigation, Mr Gallagher was awarded a Bronze Star for valour by Navy chiefs. He was not arrested until September, after repeated attempts by members of his platoon to convince officials to launch an investigation, according to a detailed report released earlier this year.
In spite of those accusations, Mr Gallagher was ultimately acquitted by a military jury of nearly all the charges he faced. Just one accusation — posing for a photo with a dead captive — stuck, and Mr Gallagher was initially demoted.
A subsequent attempt by top officials in the Navy to strip him of his Trident pin — which would amount to a very strong rebuke for the soldier, and a rescinding of his elite status — was overturned by Mr Trump, marking an unusual intervention by an American president.
In the aftermath of Mr Trump’s intervention, defence secretary Mark Esper asked for the resignation of Navy secretary Richard Spencer, claiming that he had lost confidence in him over his handling of the case.
In previous Instagram posts, Mr Gallagher and his wife can be seen attending events hosted by Turning Points USA, a conservative non-profit advocacy group known to be associated with the alt-right and far right.
The president has also embraced that group, and spoke at their conference this weekend.