MILITARY PERSONNEL LAW BLOG
BOARD FOR CORRECTION OF NAVAL RECORDS RULES IN FAVOR OF MARINE CORPS OFFICER WHO COMMANDED SPECIAL OPERATIONS UNIT FALSELY ACCUSED OF WAR CRIMES.
On January 2, 2019, the Board for Correction of Naval Records (BCNR) issued a courageous decision in the matter of Major Fred C. Galvin, USMC, Retired, who, along with other Marines, was falsely accused of indiscriminately killing women, children, and elderly on March 4, 2007, in the village of Boti Kot, Afghanistan. Major Galvin was then commanding the first unit of special operations Marines (MSOC-F) to be deployed to combat. On March 10, 2007, before investigations were completed, then-Major General Frank Kearney, US Army, ordered Major Galvin and his Marines out of Afghanistan. Ultimately, the Marine Corps took the unusual step of convening a Court of Inquiry to investigate the March 4, 2007 war crimes allegations, which concluded that no massacre occurred. The incident and its aftermath severely damaged the reputations and careers of the Marines involved.
The BCNR, which acts on behalf of the Secretary of the Navy, has directed the Marine Corps to remove derogatory materials pertaining to the ambush from Major Galvin’s official record and to reconsider him for promotion to lieutenant colonel, with potential reinstatement to the Marine Corps. The BCNR effectively exonerated Major Galvin and his Marines of wrongdoing on March 4, 2007.
Major Galvin argued before the BCNR that the false allegations of a massacre were a Taliban information operation, and “the responses of senior U.S. Army leaders to that operation were the proximate causes of the redeployment of MARSOC-F and the contested FITREP. There is no other fair reading of the evidence.”
The evidence of a sophisticated Taliban propaganda operation was overwhelming. Within 30 minutes of the ambush, MSOC-F returned to base at Jalalabad where they were greeted by news reports that the complex ambush was a slaughter of innocent civilians. As the 2008 Marine Corps Court of Inquiry noted, “news reports of the SVBIED and alleged civilian casualties surfaced on the internet prior to the MSOC-F convoy returning to [base].” On March 5, 2007, New York Times published a story by Carlotta Gall, in which she wrote, “American troops opened fire on a highway filled with civilian cars and bystanders on Sunday, American and Afghan officials said, in an incident that left 16 civilians dead and 24 wounded....” Many other media outlets followed suit.
The U.S. paid tens of thousands of dollars to Afghans who claimed to be victims of the attack. In a public payment ceremony, then-Colonel John Nicholson, U.S. Army, expressed his shame at the conduct of the MSOC-F Marines. Later, before the 2008 Court of Inquiry, he testified: “My responsibility, what my country sent me there to do was to win the counterinsurgency. This apology and the solatia were an essential part, I would argue operationally necessary, to woo the counterinsurgency and accomplish the mission that I was sent there to do for my country.”
The BCNR agreed with Major Galvin, stating, “the enemy information operation and responses of senior leaders were the proximate cause of the MSOC-F redeployment and actions taken against [Major Galvin and other Marines] were ‘collateral damage.’” That is the first time the Navy has publicly acknowledged the serious errors committed by senior leaders in the MSOC-F matter.
The BCNR also affirmed the findings of a 2008 Court of Inquiry, which determined that Major Galvin and other Marines of Fox Company did not intentionally kill civilians, but had responded to the complex enemy ambush in a proportionate and exemplary manner. The BCNR’s decision is extraordinary in its finding that senior U.S. military leaders apparently failed to appreciate that the allegations of a massacre—which were circulating on the internet within 30 minutes of the ambush—were a Taliban information operation.
“The BCNR has performed its duties courageously and with integrity,” Major Galvin said. “This was not an easy case for the Board because of the politics. It’s not a pretty picture. Very senior leaders in the Army and the Marine Corps made exceptionally poor decisions that had profound consequences for the MSOC-F Marines, who simply were doing their jobs. For highly professional Marines, being falsely accused of intentionally killing children, women, and elderly is not an easy thing to shake. This really hurt us,” he added.
According to Raymond J. Toney, Major Galvin’s attorney, “This decision should put to rest once and for all times the false allegations of murder made against Major Galvin and the MSOC-F Marines. The Navy has finally acknowledged that there was no massacre and that Major Galvin and his Marines were unfairly punished for the mistakes of senior military leaders. Fred Galvin is a model Marine and he should be promoted and reinstated.”