Eddie Gallagher’s Acquittal
Back in May, I mentioned here the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who was facing a military trial for first-degree murder and attempted murder. Citing public information that was part of the government’s case, I condemned Gallagher for his “sadism” (though of course I did not say whether I thought he was guilty of the charges; I had no idea).
This week, the military jury acquitted Gallagher of the charges, in part because during the trial, another Navy SEAL testified that he, not Gallagher, was guilty of having killed the Iraqi in question. David French writes about the case:
I also spoke to individuals with deep knowledge of Gallagher’s case, and I had an immediate thought: He may not need a pardon. The individuals I spoke to pointed to flaws in the prosecution’s case. Evidence that Gallagher sniped civilians was nonexistent. The evidence showed that rather than killing the ISIS prisoner, Gallagher had tried to save his life. And the claims against him were brought by SEALs who resented his leadership and were acting out of a vendetta against him.
Then, during the trial, something unexpected happened. Another SEAL testified that he was the real killer. SEAL medic Corey Scott told the stunned courtroom that he’d killed the prisoner as an act of mercy, believing that otherwise the man would’ve been tortured and killed by Iraqi forces. It was the kind of moment you see on television, not in real court cases, and it infuriated prosecutors. They claimed “that in six different interviews with Navy investigators, [Scott] had never hinted that he had suffocated the captive. They said he changed his story after receiving the grant of immunity.”
The jury of five Marines, one Naval officer, and one SEAL deliberated for roughly eight hours before finding Gallagher not guilty on every count but one — the charge of taking a picture with the dead ISIS terrorist. Gallagher had not contested that charge, and given his extended pretrial detention, he’s not likely to face any additional jail time for it. He may still face administrative punishment from the Navy, but he will almost certainly go free.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that the trial verdict proves Gallagher’s virtue as a SEAL, but that wasn’t the question at issue in the case. Instead, it was yet another example of the reality that cases that can seem compelling at first glance often collapse under scrutiny.
Gallagher may or may not be a sadist — that contention was not at issue in the trial — but as French rightly points out, what looked like a strong case that he had committed war crimes fell apart under scrutiny. While it’s true that I didn’t pronounce on the merits of the charges, I wish I had not been so quick to assume the testimony about Gallagher’s sadism were true. I apologize for that. I was wrong. I thank David French, once a JAG lawyer, for making an important point about not rushing to judgment.