US Navy SEALs have described their platoon leader, retired Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, as “evil,” “toxic” and “perfectly OK with killing anybody that was moving,” in video footage of interviews obtained by The New York Times.
Chief Gallagher’s war crimes case earlier this year gained international attention after President Donald Trump intervened on his behalf despite strong objections from Pentagon leaders.
The officials warned that the president’s move could damage the integrity of the military judicial system. The case also led to the navy secretary’s firing.
The footage published on Friday was part of a trove of confidential navy investigative materials that the Times obtained about the prosecution of Chief Gallagher, who was accused of battlefield misconduct in Iraq.
It shows members of Gallagher’s SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon speaking to agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service about his conduct in sometimes emotional interviews.
They described how their chief seemed to love killing, how he targeted women and children and boasted that “burqas were flying”.
The footage provides revealing insights of the men who worked with Chief Gallagher and turned him in.
They have never spoken publicly about the case, which has divided the elite fighting force known for its secrecy.
“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator 1st Class Craig Miller says about Chief Gallagher in one interview.
“The guy was toxic,” Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Virens, a sniper, says in another.
Special Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, says, “You could tell he was perfectly OK with killing anybody that was moving.”
The material also includes thousands of text messages that the SEALs sent to one another about Chief Gallagher’s case, and video from a SEAL’s helmet camera that shows Chief Gallagher approach a barely conscious captive – a teenage Islamic State fighter – in May 2017. The camera then shuts off.
In video interviews, three SEALS said they saw Chief Gallagher go on to stab the sedated captive for no reason and hold an impromptu ceremony over the body as if it were a trophy.
Miller called it “the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen in my life”.
Chief Gallagher was charged with murder in the death of the wounded captive in Iraq, posing with the body in photos and shooting civilians.
A jury of combat veterans acquitted him of all charges except one count for posing with a human casualty.
The men of Alpha Platoon, SEAL Team 7, described Chief Gallagher as “freaking evil” and “toxic” in videos not shown publicly before.
The remarks are blistering testimony about their platoon chief, who was protected by President Trump from punishment. https://t.co/zcNXDkqffF
— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 27, 2019
In the interviews, the platoon members told investigators that they tried repeatedly to report what they saw but no action was taken.
In April 2018, they went outside the SEALs to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and Chief Gallagher was arrested a few months later.
Chief Gallagher has insisted that the charges against him were concocted by six disgruntled SEALs in his platoon who could not meet his high standards.
Reacting to the videos, Chief Gallagher called the accusations “blatant lies” in a statement issued through his lawyer, the Times reported.
After his court-martial, Chief Gallagher was demoted from chief petty officer to a 1st class petty officer.
Mr Trump restored Chief Gallagher’s rank and has repeatedly tweeted support for him, saying his case had been “handled very badly from the beginning”.
Chief Gallagher, who was seeking to retire, was notified last month that a board of peers would determine if he should remain a SEAL.
President Trump ordered the navy to allow Chief Gallagher to retire as a SEAL with his full rank intact. That led to the firing of navy secretary Richard V. Spencer over his handling of the matter.