A US Navy Seal with nearly two decades of experience is being accused of serious war crimes in Iraq, including killing an ISIS fighter with a knife before performing a reenlistment ceremony over his dead body.
39-year-old Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher is currently locked away in a San Diego brig, following accusations of war crimes that took place last year during his eighth deployment.
Chief Gallagher has been charged with premeditated murder, attempted murder and other offenses, including obstruction of justice and bringing “discredit upon the armed forces.” Needless to say, the steep charges carry the possibility of a life behind bars if convicted.
As the Navy investigates, many SEALs who opted not to speak out on the matter may find themselves in legal hot water, with one Lieutenant already facing charges.
Back at home, there are few more shocked by the allegations than his own family members.
“This is not who Eddie is,” his wife, Andrea Gallagher, told the New York Times. “He is a lifesaver. He is that guy who runs into the burning building when other people are running out.”
Some SEALs did speak about Gallagher’s misdeeds, giving the prosecution plenty of ammunition in the process. From firing into civilian crowds to threatening to kill fellow SEALs who reported him for gunning down an old man carrying water jugs, Gallagher’s actions were so disturbing to some teammates that they tampered with his sniper rifle’s accuracy and fired warning shots to hamper the chief’s rising kill count.
For investigators, a troubling image of a “loose cannon” began to emerge.
“They said they spent more time protecting civilians than they did fighting ISIS,” NCIS Special Agent Joe Warpinski said in a military court hearing.
Gallagher’s lawyer, however, claims the charges are baseless and that the accounts that do exist come from disgruntled subordinates who disliked the demanding chief.
“I promise you, we will call many more SEALs who will say none of his ever happened,” Mr. attorney Phillip Stackhouse said of the accounts.
Gallagher initially enlisted in the Navy in 1999 as a corpsman and was attached to a Marine infantry unit before taking steps to become a SEAL. He attended scout sniper school -a rarity for a corpsman- and deployed regularly from 2004 onward. From Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond, Gallagher was known for his skillsets, bravery, and is highly decorated.
However, some felt he was becoming unhinged by 2017, firing his sniper rifle almost too liberally.
“Every single sniper in the platoon said he was not a good sniper,” Agent Warpinski told the court.
Chief Gallagher was known for being tough, and often punished SEALs who he felt were underperforming or not aggressive enough.
In May of 2017, Gallagher allegedly killed a wounded ISIS fighter -reportedly in his teens- with a knife as other medics tried to save the young terrorist’s life. Shortly after, members of the platoon posed with the body, and Chief Gallagher performed a reenlistment ceremony over the combatant’s corpse.
Attorney Stackhouse said that posing with bodies is not unusual and that they are quite common in special operations communities.
“These types of pictures are not unique,” he said, “They’ve been in every Iraq case I’ve ever done.”
The SEALs were reprimanded verbally over the incident, but no other action was taken.
Navy prosecutors are referring to Gallagher’s behavior as “ISIS propaganda manna from heaven.”
“Does the public still believe we are the good guys, because Chief Gallagher decided to act like the monster the terrorists accuse us of being?” prosecutor, Chris Czaplak asked at the Thursday Article 32 hearing. “He handed ISIS propaganda manna from heaven. His actions are everything ISIS says we are.”
If the case proceeds to trial, it is likely to take place next year.
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