Navy SEALs Reported Their Chief For War Crimes. They Were Told It Could Threaten Their Careers

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A team of U.S. Navy SEALs fires on insurgents from a rooftop Friday, April 21, 2006 in Ramadi 115 km (70 miles) west of Baghdad, Iraq. (Todd Pitman/AP)
A team of U.S. Navy SEALs fires on insurgents from a rooftop Friday, April 21, 2006 in Ramadi 115 km (70 miles) west of Baghdad, Iraq. (Todd Pitman/AP)

Update, 6/21/2019, from the Navy Times: Legal bombshell explodes on SEAL war crimes trial.

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Navy SEALs turned in their leader for war crimes. He faces murder charges. We go inside the secret culture of America’s elite warriors.


Dave Philipps, Pulitzer Prize-winning national correspondent for the New York Times. He covers veterans and the military. (@David_Philipps)

Bradley Strawser, professor of philosophy at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He teaches ethics to military professionals in the Special Forces community and provides guidance on ethics education to senior leaders at Special Operations Command. He also advises corporate leadership of Fortune 500 companies on organizational culture and ethical practice. Author of the forthcoming "The Bounds of Defense: Killing, Moral Responsibility, and War." Co-author of "Who Should Die?: The Ethics of Killing in War." (@NPS_Monterey)

Ed Hiner, retired lieutenant commander in the Navy SEALs. He earned two Bronze Stars for valor and combat leadership. Author of "First, Fast, Fearless: How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL." (@edhiner)

Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher. (Courtesy Parlatore Law Group)
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher. (Courtesy Parlatore Law Group)

On Point Guest Bradley Strawser, On The Dangers Of Politicizing These Cases

This is a hard discussion. The ethical culture of any complex organization requires dutiful work and strong leadership — and, thankfully, our special operations forces have that and there is a sincere and strong commitment to building and driving an ethical culture within this community from the very senior leadership right through ranks.

However, I worry about the damage done to the ethical culture of our military, and especially Special Operations Command (SOCOM), when we politicize these cases and make them yet one more football in our culture wars. Yes, absolutely, on the one hand, every individual is innocent until proven guilty; and that’s certainly the case here. And we must respect the military legal process and allow the case to play out.

On the other hand, we also cannot stack the deck against those who were willing to speak out about what they believed was wrong either. We should not rally around either 'side' in these heartbreaking cases, but rather rally around the rule of law and the legal process itself, and trust in that. Because note that these cases are devastatingly tragic whichever conclusions the trial ultimately comes to. It is, frankly, irresponsible and damaging to the ethical culture of the organization when we prejudge that process and, even worse, try to rally political leaders to weigh in and influence that process.

The other troubling narrative that one occasionally hears in these discussions is the notion that "they" — the enemy our military fights against — "do worse things to us," as if that therefore justifies or somehow gives license for wrongful behavior by our troops. This kind of broken moral thinking is — rightly and thankfully — rejected by the overwhelming majority of the SOCOM community. Yet this view does occasionally find a voice and it persists, especially in broader society’s own understanding of our military. It must be wholly rejected. The moral standards we should hold ourselves and our military to cannot be those of the enemy we fight. Rather, just the opposite: The very reason our brave men and women do what they do in the first place, is precisely because they believe that they are fighting for a just cause, and waging war the right way, with noble and honorable means. Yes, indeed, when the enemy contorts the very rules of warfare themselves against our efforts, it makes the challenge to fight honorably ever more difficult. And we do well to remember this as we consider just how incredible the tasks and demands and moral burdens are that we place on the shoulders of that small slice of our population that wages war on our behalf.

From The Reading List

New York Times: "Navy SEALs Were Warned Against Reporting Their Chief for War Crimes" — "Stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death. Picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost. Indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.

"Navy SEAL commandos from Team 7’s Alpha Platoon said they had seen their highly decorated platoon chief commit shocking acts in Iraq. And they had spoken up, repeatedly. But their frustration grew as months passed and they saw no sign of official action.

"Tired of being brushed off, seven members of the platoon called a private meeting with their troop commander in March 2018 at Naval Base Coronado near San Diego. According to a confidential Navy criminal investigation report obtained by The New York Times, they gave him the bloody details and asked for a formal investigation.

"But instead of launching an investigation that day, the troop commander and his senior enlisted aide — both longtime comrades of the accused platoon leader, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher — warned the seven platoon members that speaking out could cost them and others their careers, according to the report."

Navy Times: "Prosecutors, NCIS investigator accused of ‘misconduct’ in war crimes case" — "A motion filed Tuesday in California threatens to derail the entire war crimes case against Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward 'Eddie' Gallagher.

"Drafted by Gallagher’s civilian defense attorney Timothy Parlatore, it paints a portrait of 'stonewalling' prosecutors refusing to turn over evidence that could clear the embattled chief and a federal cop who allegedly went rogue by cherry-picking witness statements to salvage a rickety case.

"'Rather than conduct a proper investigation in search of the truth, (the agent) began with a pre-determined conclusion and went about finding evidence to support that conclusion, while ignoring or suppressing anything that conflicted with that narrative,' Parlatore wrote in his filing.

"Gallagher, 39, is accused of stabbing to death an unarmed and seriously wounded Islamic State prisoner of war during a 2017 deployment to Iraq, plus shooting an old man and a young girl in a violent spree that prosecutors contend might have claimed hundreds of lives."

Navy Times: "What motivated fellow SEALs to dime out Eddie Gallagher?" — "On May 28, Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward 'Eddie' Gallagher will be guided into a courtroom inside Naval Base San Diego, where he will face a panel of his peers sifting evidence in a war crimes case.

"It will mark a sea change in the sea service’s clandestine and close-knit cadre of SEALs, a secretive and elite military force that rarely testifies against each other, especially in war crimes probes attracting an international audience.

"But Gallagher faces a long line of SEALs prepared to provide damning testimony under oath against him.

"One of the members of Gallagher’s unit — Alpha Platoon, SEAL Team 7 — is expected to testify that Gallagher confessed that he 'killed four women,' according to Naval Criminal Investigative Service files and legal records provided to Navy Times.

"Two other SEAL petty officers told investigators Gallagher bragged about slaying '10-20 people a day or 150-200 people on deployment,' court documents state."

Fox News: "Trump says Navy SEAL accused of war crimes will be moved to ‘less restrictive confinement’" — "President Trump on Saturday announced that Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who is accused of war crimes in Iraq, will be moved to 'less restrictive confinement' — apparently in response to a push by Republican lawmakers advocating for Gallagher.

"'In honor of his past service to our Country, Navy Seal #EddieGallagher will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court. Process should move quickly!' Trump tweeted.

"Gallagher is facing premeditated murder and aggravated assault charges stemming from the alleged killing of an injured ISIS prisoner and alleged instances of him intentionally firing sniper rounds at civilians.

"He has spent six months of detention at Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in California. He is not expected to emerge until the start of his war crimes trial on May 28."

Stefano Kotsonis produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on April 25, 2019.

This program aired on April 25, 2019.



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