Video interviews and documents leaked to The New York Times reveal how Navy SEALs turned against their own platoon leader with allegations that he killed for the sake of killing.
Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher was accused of war crimes in the fatal stabbing of a young wounded fighter for the Islamic State militant group who had been detained by the U.S. military in Iraq in 2017. In July, Gallagher was found not guilty by a military court of six of the seven charges against him, including murder and attempted murder.
Gallagher's fellow SEALs supported the allegations, characterizing the 19-year veteran as "evil" and "toxic,” according to the detailed New York Times report published Friday.
“You could tell he was perfectly OK with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators, according to the Times.
“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator 1st Class Craig Miller was quoted as saying.
President Donald Trump reversed the punishment handed out to Gallagher in November, restoring him to his rank as chief petty officer.
Seven SEALs testified during the trial that Gallagher abruptly stabbed the teen prisoner on May 3, 2017, just after he and other medics treated the boy. NBC News has not spoken to any of the individual SEALS shown in the tapes or quoted in the story, but the paper has reached out to all of them and they declined to comment.
Despite having spoken against Gallagher to investigators, Scott testified he was the person who killed the boy when he plugged his breathing tube with his thumb in an act of mercy.
But Navy Cmdr. Jeff Pietrzyk had told the jury that Gallagher had texted him, "Got him with my hunting knife." He then showed a photo of Gallagher holding up the dead prisoner's head by the hair.
Gallagher was found guilty of one charge for posing in the photo with the corpse. He was sentenced to four months confinement, but it was considered time already served for being held in pre-trial custody.
Miller was also quoted having told investigators the incident was "the most disgraceful thing I've ever seen in my life."
Timothy Parlatore, Gallagher’s lawyer, told the Times that the videos were full of inconsistencies and falsehoods that created “a clear road map to the acquittal.”
Gallagher maintained that the charges were made up by disgruntled members of his platoon.
“I felt sorry for them that they thought it necessary to smear my name, but they never realized what the consequences of their lies would be,” he said in a statement to the newspaper issued through Parlatore. “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.”
On Saturday, Gallagher met Trump at Mar-a-Lago after attending the conservative youth organization Turning Point USA's Student Action Summit with his wife, Andrea.
A photo of the couple with the president was posted on their Instagram account with a message that they gave Trump a "little gift from Eddie's deployment to Mosul." It's unclear in the picture what exactly the gift was.
Last month, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Trump also directed him to allow Gallagher to retire without losing his gold eagle Trident emblem, which signifies that a service member is part of one of the Navy's elite Special Warfare Navy Sea, Air and Land units, or SEALs.
Gallagher's case created friction between Trump and the Navy and led to the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. Trump frequently spoke out about the case, calling Gallagher "a great fighter" and accusing the department of mishandling the disciplinary action against him.
CORRECTION (Dec. 28, 2019, 5:55 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article and headline misstated Trump’s action in regard to Gallagher. The president dismissed the punishment handed out to Gallagher by a military jury, reversing his demotion; he did not pardon Gallagher.