Active duty Navy SEAL Chief Keith Barry spent more than 18 years serving his country before being wrongfully convicted of rape and serving two and a half years in prison. He is speaking out now for the first time in five years to shed light on the political pressure and corrupt actions by one of the Navy’s most powerful top lawyers.
In his own words, what happened to Barry is a blessing.
“This has been the worst, and also the greatest thing that’s happened to me in my entire life,” he recently told American Military News.
That’s powerful, given he was wrongfully convicted of rape by the U.S. Navy in 2014 and sentenced to three years in prison. In an unprecedented turn of events four years later, Barry’s conviction was overturned and his case was dismissed; this after two appeals that had left him with no hope.
But it was finally brought to light that there had been unlawful command influence over the decision – meaning people in positions of power intentionally and illegally exerted their influence in order to pre-determine an outcome; in other words, it was about as corrupt as it could get.
Barry was reinstated into the U.S. military this past fall after being dishonorably discharged. He had also been required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and was preparing to live out his days a convicted felon. He rarely speaks publicly about what happened, let alone to the press. But he’s come forward now because he says this needs to be brought to light “for our society, for civilians to know.”
“It has been an opportunity for growth,” he reflected. “I am closer to the people who matter in my life more than I have ever been, and I’ve really experienced that love for the first time, in something so terrible. You really see and witness love from human beings that gives you faith.”
Barry, now 44, joined the Navy and went through BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training) when he was 22. By 2013, Barry had served 18 years as an active duty Navy SEAL and been on multiple combat deployments.
He was exposed to blast injuries over the course of probably eight deployments in Iraq, Barry explained, and had been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He came to the west coast to serve out his “twilight tour” at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego Bay before retiring.
In January 2013, the act that his accuser would later allege was rape took place. Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) launched an investigation after his accuser brought forth the allegations, and in October 2014, after a 3-day court-martial, Barry was determined to be guilty of rape. He was jailed in Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego on Halloween 2014.
He served two and a half years in jail before being released in 2017, six months early for good behavior. Out of jail, he was now a convicted felon and was expecting to have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
“I was a convicted felon and a registered sex offender, pending dishonorable discharge. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t get a job, I couldn’t even drive an Uber… this after 20 years of operating as a Navy SEAL,” Barry somberly recalled.
He lived in hell for another 18 months before “the truth came out,” Barry said.
His second appeal had been rejected in the Navy and Marine Court of Appeal. There was virtually no hope at this point to right the wrong.
“I was done, I was absolutely done. I was going to be a convicted felon for the rest of my life,” Barry said.
However, because of new information that someone was brave enough to bring forward and to his legal team’s attention, Barry’s case had life again, he said – and so would he.
Three years after the conviction, and after two failed appeals, it was revealed in 2017 that the convening authority in his case had been pressured to rule against the evidence and to uphold the conviction against Barry in the post-trial clemency phase.
Barry says a whistle-blower overheard a conversation between Barry’s convening authority, Rear Admiral Patrick Lorge, and Vice Admr. James Crawford, who would later be JAG General of the Navy – the highest-ranking uniformed lawyer in the Navy. Lorge and Crawford have both since retired, respectively, and at different times.
Lorge ultimately came out and said he was pressured to uphold the conviction against Barry, and this was determined to be unlawful command influence (UCI), or those in positions of power stepping in and directing an outcome in matters that should be determined by a neutral third party, for example.
Lorge even signed an affidavit for Barry’s legal team, which has been reviewed by American Military News.
“Upon review of the record [in 2015], I had serious misgivings about the evidence supporting this conviction,” Lorge wrote. “Specifically, I did not believe the evidence supported the alleged victim’s account of events. I was inclined to disapprove the findings.”
Lorge said, “Upon my review of the record of trial from this case, I did not find that the Government proved the allegation against Senior Chief Barry beyond a reasonable doubt,” adding that had he not been pressured by others, he would have disapproved the findings.
“On a personal note, I would ask you to forgive my failure in leadership and right the wrong that I committed in this case against Senior Chief Barry; ensure justice prevails and when doubt exists, allow a man to remain innocent,” Lorge added.
He also wrote, and it’s worth reading in its entirety:
“As I considered whether to disapprove the findings, I was also concerned about the impact to the Navy if I were to disapprove the findings. At the time, the political climate regarding sexual assault in the military was such that a decision to disapprove findings, regardless of merit, would bring hate and discontent on the Navy from the President, as well as senators including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. I was also aware of cases from other services that became high profile and received extreme negative attention because the convening authorities upset guilty findings in sexual assault cases. … I perceived that if I were to disapprove the findings in the case, it would adversely affect the Navy. Everyone from the President down the chain and Congress would fail to look at its merits, and only view it through the prism of opinion. Even though I was convinced then, and am convinced now, that I should have disapproved the findings, my consideration of the Navy’s interest in avoiding the perception that military leaders were sweeping sexual assaults under the rug outweighed that conviction at the time.”
In September 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) threw out the charges and dismissed Barry’s case “with prejudice,” meaning the government can never renew the charges or take up the case again.
The appeals court’s opinion, also reviewed by American Military News, read:
“It is not every day that a general court-martial convening authority begs our forgiveness for his failure of leadership in approving findings he believed should not be approved. As a result of this unusual admission, we granted review to determine whether the most senior officials in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAGC) unlawfully influenced the convening authority or created the appearance of doing so.”
“We further specified the issue of whether the Deputy Judge United States v. Barry, No. 17-0162/NA Opinion of the Court Advocate General (DJAG), the JAGC’s second highest rank- ing officer, is capable of exerting unlawful influence. We hold: (1) that a DJAG can indeed commit unlawful influence; and (2) that the Navy DJAG actually did so in this case.”
Barry was reinstated into the Navy at his last held rank, senior chief, and it was ordered that his back pay be restored, as well as his other privileges. He reports to Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego Bay, as he is still active duty.
But he had realized in the early stages of this journey that there was something much larger at play, Barry said.
“It was the moment I was convicted at the Article 32 hearing,” he said. “The moment they came back and recommended me for court-martial, that’s when I knew that there was a lot more at play. We were not innocent until proven guilty. We are absolutely guilty until proven innocent.”
“In my case, had Lorge not had a guilty conscience, had there not been a whistle-blower…,” Barry paused. “It took a junior officer to come forth with the information he had. When you have admirals conducting themselves without integrity, without courage and commitment to the oaths they’ve taken, as far as I’m concerned, there’s a lot of loss of faith in that system.”
Now, Barry wants to educate the public and “make sure every American taxpayer is well-aware of how the government is conducting business.”
“I’ve been a patriot my entire life. The government is an entirely different entity than the nation, and I swore to protect the nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” he said.