December 28, 2019
A US Navy Seal who was tried for war crimes was described by members of his unit as “evil”, “toxic”, and “perfectly OK with killing anybody”, according to footage obtained by the New York Times.
The case of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher gained national attention when President Trump championed him.
Gallagher was demoted by the Navy after his trial earlier this year but Mr Trump reversed the decision.
In doing so, the president contradicted the Navy’s most senior leaders.
Mr Trump recently hosted Gallagher and his wife at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, and described the soldier at a rally as one of the country’s “great fighters”.
Gallagher denied any wrongdoing, claiming the case against him was concocted by disgruntled members of his unit who wanted to force him out.
What does the new footage show?
The video recordings obtained by the New York Times show Navy Seals giving evidence to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). They have never been shown publicly before, the Times reported.
The soldiers from Alpha Platoon Seal Team 7 were visibly nervous and some broke down into tears as they recalled what they had witnessed.
“The guy is freaking evil,” said Special Operator Craig Miller.
In a separate interview, Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, described their platoon chief as “toxic”.
Special Operator First Class Corey Scott said: “You could tell he was perfectly OK with killing anybody that was moving.”
What happened at the trial?
Gallagher was accused of stabbing a captured teenager Islamic State fighter to death and randomly shooting civilians while serving in Iraq, including a young girl.
Footage from a helmet camera showed the former unit chief approaching the body of the semi-conscious IS fighter in May 2017. The camera was then shut off, but three members of Gallagher’s unit testified that he stabbed the boy in the neck with his hunting knife, before holding an impromptu ceremony over the body as if it were a trophy.
A photograph taken at the scene showed Chief Gallagher posing over the body, holding the boy’s hair in one hand his hunting knife in the other.
“I was listening to it and I was just thinking, like, this is the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Special Operator Miller told NCIS investigators.
The Seals told investigators that they had tried to report what they had seen but the chain of command above them took no action. In April 2018, they went to the NCIS and Gallagher was arrested months later.
But Gallagher’s was acquitted of the most serious charges after a trial in which a key witness suddenly reversed his testimony. He was convicted only of the lesser charge of posing with the IS prisoner’s corpse.
For that he was demoted, but President Trump intervened and reinstated his rank.
Gallagher was then formally notified by Navy leaders that he would face a disciplinary review which could result in his being stripped of his Trident pin – a gold-coloured insignia that shows he is a member of the Seals unit.
In a remarkable intervention that put him directly at odds with the Navy’s senior command, Mr Trump tweeted to say the Navy would “NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin”.
The US Navy chief Richard Spencer was fired over his handling of the case
Has Gallagher responded to the videos?
In a statement released through his lawyer, Gallagher said his first reaction to seeing the videos was “surprise and disgust that they would make up blatant lies about me.”
He added: “But I quickly realised that they were scared that the truth would come out of how cowardly they acted on deployment.
“I felt sorry for them that they thought it necessary to smear my name, but they never realised what the consequences of their lies would be. As upset as I was, the videos also gave me confidence because I knew that their lies would never hold up under real questioning and the jury would see through it. Their lies and NCIS’s refusal to ask hard questions or corroborate their stories strengthened my resolve to go to trial and clear my name,” he said.