Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL whom President Trump pardoned of war crimes, has a long history of “unhinged” conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan, leading up to charges he murdered a prisoner-of-war, then posed with the corpse.
During eight overseas deployments, Gallagher was involved in a string of incidents that marred decorations for valor, including two Bronze Stars, and positive evaluations from superiors, according to his military records.
Gallagher enlisted in 1999 and rose to the rank of Chief Petty Officer. He was trained as a medic, a sniper and as an explosives expert. He was attached to a U.S. Marine Corps unit until he enrolled in Basic Underwater Demolition Schools to become a Navy SEAL in 2005.
Gallagher goes by the nickname “Blade” with his fellow frogmen because of his obsession with knives.
Given his background, he was considered a poster boy for the Navy SEALs and was able to skate through a number of controversies and investigations with few formal reprimands.
In 2010, in the first of several incidents, he was investigated for allegedly shooting a young girl in Afghanistan, but was cleared of wrongdoing.
Four years later, he was in trouble again for allegedly trying to run over a Navy police officer with his car because he was irritated at being detained at a traffic stop.
As a result of his run-ins, Gallagher gained a reputation as someone who frequently flouted rules.
In 2017, during the Battle for Mosul, SEAL team members reported Gallagher for violating the rules of war.
Among his actions, he allegedly murdered a prisoner-of-war in violation of the Geneva Convention and the U.S. rules for conduct in combat.
The incident began when a captured Islamic State fighter, believed to be between 12 and 17 years old, was being treated by a medic.
Gallagher radioed “he’s mine” and walked up to the medic and prisoner, according to two SEAL witnesses.
Without saying a word, Gallagher killed the prisoner by stabbing him repeatedly with his hunting knife.
Gallagher and his platoon leader, Lt Jacob Portier, took photos of themselves standing over the body with some other nearby SEALs.
Gallagher then texted to a fellow SEAL a photo of the dead captive with the explanation “Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.”
His actions were reported by his own men, but SEAL commanders allegedly dismissed the allegations and ordered those who complained to remain silent.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) got wind of the reports and investigated. in September a year ago, Gallagher was arrested at Camp Pendleton and charged with premeditated murder, attempted murder, obstruction of justice, and other offenses.
Portier was charged with failing to properly escalate complaints to his superiors as well as destroying evidence.
Gallagher’s actions were also called into question during his eighth deployment in 2017 where he served as a sniper. His behavior was described as “indiscriminate, reckless and blood thirsty.”
Some SEALs told investigators they were excited to serve under him at first. But they soon started to see him as unhinged. He fired his rifle about ten times as often as other snipers, they said, even at times when there seemed to be no targets.
Snipers said they witnessed Gallagher taking at least two militarily pointless shots, shooting and killing an unarmed old man in a white robe as well as a young girl walking with other girls, according to The Navy Times.
Gallagher claimed he averaged three kills a day over 80 days, including four women. Gallagher also was reportedly known for indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine gun fire with no known enemy force in the region, according to The New York Times.
Some platoon members were so distraught by the chief’s actions, investigators said, they tampered with his sniper rifle to make it less accurate and fired warning shots to scare away civilians before the chief had a chance to shoot them, according to The Times.
Once Gallagher came under investigation, he alleged engaged in witness intimidation. Gallagher allegedly threatened to kill fellow SEALs if they reported his actions.
The Navy cited his text messages as evidence. He sent messages urging other SEALs to “pass the word on those traitors,” meaning cooperating witnesses, and to get them blacklisted within the special warfare community.
Gallagher was also charged with “nearly a dozen” lesser offenses.
Gallagher pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him. His lawyers claimed his accusers concocted stories about him because he was too tough on them.
Chris Czaplak, the Navy Jag who prosecuted him, had a different opinion.
“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?” he said. “He handed ISIS propaganda manna from heaven. His actions are everything ISIS says we are.”
Gallagher was acquitted of murder in a controversial trial where a colleague received immunity to testify, then shocked the tribunal by confessing to the murder. But the Chief Petty Officer was convicted of posing with a corpse, which was undeniable because of the photos.
The Navy was in the process of revoking Gallagher’s SEAL Trident,” effectively busting him from SEAL ranks when Trump intervened.
Gallagher had become a darling of right-wing pundits who proclaimed him a war hero and and praised him for his toughness.
After hearing about his plight on Fox News, Trump ignored the views of his top military commanders and pardoned him.
It’s no surprise the Pentagon vehemently opposed the move. War is hell and there are often collateral casualties during combat. But that’s not the case here.
Gallagher willfully killed a wounded Islamic State fighter in a situation where the individual was a prisoner of war.
War crimes are defined as acts which violate the laws and customs of war established by the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.
The Geneva Convention, of which the United States was a key proponent and signatory, and the updated Geneva Convention of 1949 in the wake of World War II, states all prisoners must be treated with compassion and live in humane conditions.
Obviously, many countries signed the agreement including Germany before World War II, and many routinely violate it to this day. Even so, the United States and the allies, for the most part, adhered to the treaty and prosecuted both allied and Nazi war criminals.
The United States “rules of engagement” for combat are contained in a document known as the “Law of War,” which governs how U.S. soldiers are to conduct themselves in combat Every soldier is schooled in this.
The military has “worked for decades to lay to rest the ghost of the Vietnam War and war crimes committed during it, and Trump’s decision risks undermining that, said Phillip Carter, a former Army officer and Obama administration official, who now studies national security for the Rand Corp.
“Executive clemency like this introduces doubt into the chain of command, and creates uncertainty about accountability for breaches of military rules,” he said.
Trump’s action also undermines discipline and morale among those in the armed forces who believe in and follow the honor code.
It also sends a signal that atrocities committed against enemy combatants will be tolerated by the administration and the Commander in Chief, leading to a breakdown in battlefield discipline.
Trump is certainly within his right as “Command in Chief” to take these actions. But to do so without considering the implications of his act, unanimously opposed by every branch of the military, undermines our troops and soldiers in the field.