“The Guy is Freaking Evil”
Newly released testimony from Eddie Gallagher's fellow SEALs paints a dark picture of Trump's 'hero.'
President Trump may think that bringing convicted war criminals on the 2020 campaign trail will bolster his cred with the base, and maybe it will, but it’ll be a bumpy ride. White knights aren’t always so stainless, and Trump has chosen a collection of tarnished men who even their fellow comrades think are a disgrace to the uniform. Who is Trump to say which SEAL Team 7 member is the hero and who is the heel?
Days after the president hosted Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher and his wife at the winter White House in Mar-a-Lago in Florida, the New York Tines has published an explosive story featuring hours of testimony by the SEALs on his team who initially turned Gallagher in. The evidence had been used in his murder trial for which he was accused of stabbing and killing a teenage ISIS fighter while he was sedated and dying on a gurney, as well as shooting unarmed Iraqi civilians. He later posed with the dead boy for a picture, and shared it widely via text. He was acquitted this year on the murder charge after a fellow special operator changed his story (under immunity) to say he himself smothered the teen to death after Gallagher had stabbed him.
Gallagher was, however, convicted on one charge of posing with the body. Trump then reversed his demotion and forced Navy to allow him to keep his Trident pin. The Navy Secretary resigned over what he said was Trump’s interference in military discipline.
The NYT story published this morning for the first time lends credence to the prosecution’s story—that members of Gallagher’s team were frightened and hesitant but came forward to Navy investigators as their pleas to the chain of command went unanswered. According to the paper, the men described seeing Gallagher stab the wounded captive with a hunting knife and “painted a picture of a platoon driven to despair by a chief who seemed to care primarily about racking up kills. They described how their chief targeted women and children and boasted that ‘burqas were flying.'”
“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator Miller told investigators. “The guy was toxic,” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview. “You could tell he was perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators.
Such dire descriptions of Chief Gallagher, who had eight combat deployments and sometimes went by the nickname Blade, are in marked contrast to Mr. Trump’s portrayal of him at a recent political rally in Florida as one of “our great fighters.”
Obviously they knew what they were doing—not so different from the sailors in the 1954 Hollywood film, The Caine Mutiny—would put their own careers in peril. But hundreds of texts that were used in the trove of evidence indicate the men did not coordinate their stories, but commiserated in a sort of support system during the trial and after they were re-assigned and scattered.
“This stuff is frustrating to read and makes it seem like Eddie will possibly get away with murder (literally),” Special Operator First Class Dylan Dille texted the group. “Let’s not forget there are 7-12 of us in here who had the balls to tell the truth about what Eddie has done.”
He said he thought the case against Chief Gallagher was strong despite the procedural setbacks. “I am also convinced that we are gonna answer to a higher power someday, and everything happens for a reason,” wrote Special Operator Dille, who has since left the Navy. “Not compromising our integrity and keeping right on our side is all we can do.”
Because of the code that no one informs on a fellow SEAL, the men who testified against Gallagher have been publicly excoriated, particularly by Gallagher and his wife Andrea, who have been given a golden platform on Fox News for the last year to make their case of innocence. This has obviously affected Trump, who sided with Gallagher and has made him a hero. And everyone else? Traitors.
“The teams are now divided over this, like I’ve never seen happen before,” Rick Haas, a retired command master chief who served in the SEALs for 30 years, said in the NYT piece.
No doubt Trump and Fox believe that the rank and file will continue to view Gallagher as a victim of a petty campaign by disgruntled subordinates. They think Gallagher will make a fine surrogate on the campaign trail, along with Clint Lorance, who was convicted of killing Afghan civilians, and Matthew Golsteyn, who faced charges of killing an unarmed Afghan man he believed was a bomb maker. Trump pardoned both men, and brought them on stage this month at the annual GOP Statesman’s Dinner fundraiser in Florida.
Essentially, Trump is taking a gamble that he, with the help of the Conservative Inc. echo chamber, will be effective in drowning out the emerging alternative narrative here—that Gallagher, Lorance, and Goldsteyn aren’t representative of America’s bravest, rather they symbolize the worst excesses of a strained volunteer military in our endless wars of choice. Moreover, Trump is in no position to tell the rest of America who is a “hero”and who is a “traitor” based on his own venal political agenda. These men are being used as props, and it’s dangerous. Yes, there is a divide—but it’s over right and wrong, not Red and Blue.