The Pentagon has begun preparing panels to review the U.S. Navy’s and Marine Corps’ assessments of their legal divisions in reaction to apparent legal concerns raised by misconduct during the recent war crimes trial of U.S. Navy SEAL Special Warfare Operator Eddie Gallagher.
On Friday, the Pentagon indicated it will seek a panel of 35 uniformed and civilian legal experts to assess the behavior of the Navy and Marine Corps’ legal community, Navy Times first reported. The assessment follows concerns that warrantless surveillance tactics and other pressure tactics to Gallagher’s legal team’s defense of their client, who was accused of war crimes in a set of failed allegations.
The probe was first announced by then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, and expanded by Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer in August, following Gallagher’s acquittal on war crimes charges stemming from accusations that he murdered a captured ISIS fighter.
While both branches have endured allegations of past legal debacles, those concerns reached a tipping point during Gallagher’s case after Navy judge Capt. Aaron Rugh sanctioned the prosecuting team for violations of the SEAL’s constitutional rights ahead of the trial.
Rugh removed the lead prosecutor, Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak, for his involvement in conducting warrantless surveillance of emails sent between Gallagher’s legal team and reporters for Navy Times.
Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agents were also accused of illegally leaking documents to the media to taint jury selections as well as the use of immunity deals and a “target letter” to dissuade witnesses who could exonerate Gallagher from coming forward to testify.
Just months before Gallagher’s case, the military’s top appellate justices agreed with another SEAL’s appeal to overturn his conviction on rape charges.
Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Keith E. Barry was previously convicted on the rape charges in 2014 and spent three years in prison. Throughout that entire time, Barry claimed Navy officials pressured the convening authority in his case to rule against him. After serving out his sentence and launching multiple appeals, the Navy did not throw out the charges against Barry until September 2018.
NCIS Supervisory Special Agent John Beliveau, Jr. added to the growing concern for the corruptibility of law enforcement and justice within the Navy after Beliveau admitted to his involvement in military contractor Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis’ efforts to bribe Navy officials.
Both branches are reportedly working to assess their Judge Advocates Corps and the Staff Judge Advocates to ensure the legal teams are properly organized, staffed, trained and equipped to handle legal cases involving service members.
It is not yet clear if the Navy and Marine Corp probes will also include assessments of NCIS and other law enforcement agencies implicated alongside JAG prosecutors.