What Can Be Learned From The Case Of SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher?
This article in The New York Times on December 27 tended to be more confusing than clarifying. It’s about the Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher who was accused of atrocities during war, exonerated of most of the counts by a military trial, and pardoned for everything else by President Trump. Now it appears tapes of testimony by other SEALs against Chief Gallagher have come to light making it hard to know what he really did and whether or not men in his command conspired to frame him because they did not like his mode of leadership. I am not sure what I am supposed to glean from this conflicting testimony, but one thing is clear, there was a definite problem within the command of Chief Gallagher. Either he was out of control, or his men were out to get him. Or maybe something in the middle.
Seven members of the 22-man unit testified against Chief Gallagher. Were they all lying? Does it even matter now that the Chief has friends in high places (the White House) and he has been honorably retired after his years of service and allowed to keep his SEAL trident pin. Two men in the group said they saw no infractions by the Chief.
You really have to read the description in the Times, but don’t expect to have facts laid out for you that will enable you to come to a conclusion about the Chief’s guilt or innocence. After all, these days, everyone has his own facts.
The real question is what does one do in a situation where serious crimes are taking place, or you believe they are, and you feel powerless to prevent it. Of course, this is the very issue that characterizes the sexual harassment problem, but these are not the only instances of this. Let me suggest one closer to home and also suggest that its aftermath was handled badly and continues to provide a challenge to the system in which it occurred because the way it was dealt with cannot be interpreted as fair.
The case I want to discuss is that of the MD Anderson presidency of Ron DePinho. The particulars of his many shortcomings do not matter so much as the reign of terror that ruled MD Anderson during the DePinho years and the inability of anyone to stop it because the forces, particularly the ones in Austin, did not want to hear what they were being told on a regular basis about conflict of interest, nepotism, self-dealing, harassment, lack of integrity, and a general sense of true terror that ruled MD Anderson for six years. Those in Austin had their own truth, too.
My argument is that once DePinho was finally removed from the presidency, he needed to leave Houston to erase the stain of what he did and to pave the way for a clean start for a new administration. That is not what happened. In fact, many of the people that Dr. DePinho put in leadership roles retain these roles and some have even gotten promoted. The institution is worse off for not expunging the legacy of corruption that was the years of DePinho. He’s still around being paid an enormous salary and getting a great deal of support for his laboratory. I guess he was too big to fail.
The SEALs will have to deal with the stain of Edward Gallagher one way or the other. There is clearly a problem in the psyche of the SEALs if behavior as was alleged to have occurred could be tolerated and the claims of seven warriors can be dismissed. And why is President Trump turning this guy into a hero? Because he was good at killing people? Hmmm….
Every organization makes mistakes in leadership. Eventually the poor leadership is supplanted one way or the other. It just is a pity that so many people at Anderson had to lose their jobs as prominent leaders in academic oncology because they wouldn’t toe the DePinho line and the nonsense that is the Moon Shot program.
I hope the SEALs learn and cleanse themselves of any other bad actors free of the influence of the White House. The president had no business interfering in the military’s attempt to fix a problem using well-documented procedure.
The same is true at Anderson. All the other presidents of MD Anderson moved on once they were no longer leaders. Some retired. Some continued to work in the lab. I hope none got a huge buyout, but I don’t know. Maybe they did. The influence of Ron DePinho needs to be over. And that includes trading in the FORDs, the Friends of Ron DePinho. Yesterday.