Gallagher stabbed to death a 17-year-old Iraqi prisoner but got off scot-free after a witness lied in court.
Gallagher’s crimes were a product of a Navy SEAL subculture that prizes killing.
[This article kicks off CAM’s commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the Global War on Terror. It shows the solidification of a fascist culture that glorifies elite paramilitary units who carry out mass murder. We will follow with additional articles that provide needed critical perspective.—Editors]
In December 2019, just before Christmas, Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher and his wife Andrea were invited to meet President Donald Trump at his estate in Mar-a-Lago, Florida.
A year earlier, Gallagher had been court martialed for killing a 17-year-old Islamic State in the Levant (ISIS) captive—Moatez Muhammed Abdullah—in Mosul by stabbing him in the neck.
He was acquitted after a medic in his SEAL team, Corey Scott, lied to the army court about the circumstances surrounding the killing.
Gallagher had emerged as a conservative hero after his wife, Andrea, promoted his cause on Fox & Friends, capitalizing on the public’s infatuation with the Navy SEALs following the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Gallagher appeared as a real-life Rambo unafraid to bend the rules to defeat a foreign enemy and make America great again.
President Trump accordingly tweeted a celebratory note after his acquittal, pushed for the reinstatement of his naval rank, and posed for photos with him after inviting him to his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Gallagher responded by providing President Trump with a special gift—a captured ISIS flag that he could put in the White House.
The bond between Gallagher and Trump was emblematic of the GOP’s embrace of fascist values as an extension of the culture of military worship which has plagued U.S. society since the end of World War II.
Fascist regimes historically glorified elite military units while ruling through brute force.
The Nazis revered the Sturmabteilung (SA), who engaged in street brawls with their enemies and depicted the Waffen-SS as modern knights and patriots who fought for their country against the scourge of Bolshevism.
The admiration for the Navy SEALs in U.S. culture is not far removed from the Nazi era. It has also helped engender support for aggressive wars and violations of international law.
One of the hit television shows of the 1980s was Magnum P.I., which featured a cool former Navy SEAL turned private investigator played by Tom Selleck who wore aloha shirts and drove a Ferrari.
After the killing of Osama bin Laden by Navy SEAL Team 6, Chris Kyle’s memoir, American Sniper, became an instant best-seller and then hit movie.
Kyle had been investigated for needless deaths of civilians, once claiming to have shot two insurgents with one bullet riding on a scooter after seeing the pair plant an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) when an army investigation found no IED.
Real Life Kurtz
With his chiseled physique, good looks, and chest of war medals, Eddie Gallagher appears to be a Navy SEAL poster boy.
However, beneath his public image lies a war lover and psychopath—a real life Col. Kurtz from the film Apocalypse Now who went rogue in Iraq and got away with murder.
New York Times journalist David Philipps, in a new unvarnished profile of Gallagher, wrote that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) report into Gallagher’s conduct “read like something out of Apocalypse Now. Chief Gallagher appeared to have gone way upriver, shooting children and old men, firing rockets and machine guns into neighborhoods, doing drugs, [and] stabbing a wounded prisoner of war to death.”
Son of a West Point graduate and army officer, Gallagher joined the Navy at age nineteen in 1999 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, after dropping out of community college and working a series of dead-end jobs. As a kid he loved war movies.
Homophobic and racist, Gallagher first deployed to Iraq in 2003 when he served as a medic for Marine snipers.
After his return, Gallagher tried out for the SEALs and passed its rigorous entry course. He became an expert marksman, sharpshooter, rocket launcher, jumpmaster, and explosives expert.
In 2009, Gallagher earned his first Bronze Star in Afghanistan when he launched two shoulder-fired rockets from a rooftop and obliterated the Taliban position after they had attacked his squad while it was searching through stalls at a bazaar.
In 2017, Gallagher commanded Alpha Team 7 during the siege of Mosul. Team 7 launched scores of shoulder-fired rockets and missiles and called in more than a hundred air strikes.
Gallagher himself fired his rifle so much that it seized up and stopped working by the end of his deployment. His tally of kills was more than one hundred.
In Mosul, Joe Arrington, a member of Alpha Team 7, witnessed Gallagher shoot an old man near a river who was carrying an empty plastic jug and a young girl with a flowered hijab.
Other members of Team 7 saw Gallagher firing on crowded neighborhoods like they were a training range and shooting at civilians for fun.
Out for personal glory, he risked his men’s lives by engaging in aggressive actions in violation of the military’s rules of engagement which required the SEALs to stay 1,000 meters behind the Forward Line of Own Troops, or FLOT, and let the Iraqi soldiers do the door-to-door fighting.
Gallagher didn’t care about these rules and just wanted stories he could brag about to his friends.
One story had him smashing a guy’s head in with a toaster, another shooting a goat herder walking through a field, and another shooting a little girl allegedly being used as a human shield by a Taliban fighter.
According to the men in his platoon, Gallagher had become unglued in Mosul while addicted to opiates and was “freakin’ evil.”
Before his deployment, he bought a hatchet from a friend and then texted him, “I’ll try and dig that knife or hatchet on someone’s skull.”
The NCIS investigators found a photo of Gallagher on his phone posing with the head of the POW he had killed in one hand and his hunting knife in the other. Gallagher sent the photo to a friend in California with a text stating, “good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.”
In Alpha, David Philipps depicts Gallagher’s behavior as deriving from the culture of the Navy SEALs, where status was obtained through killing.
Philipps writes that Gallagher’s behavior was “not an anomaly. He was a SEAL raised by other SEALs. His actions reflected a learned behavior passed down from the men who had come before him. He was part of an unsanctioned subculture in the SEALs that prized killing above nearly everything else, including in some cases the rule of law. And in his own way, he may just have been trying to fit in.”
Tellingly, the mascot of Gallagher’s Alpha platoon was a she-devil in thigh-high red stockings with a forked tail. The men called her the “Bad Karma Chick.”
And “bad karma” is what they meted out.
Josh Vriens, a chief witness against Gallagher at his trial, for example, ordered a drone strike along the Syrian border that killed a group of children.
The Navy SEAL Teams were created in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy who, as commander of a small torpedo boat in World War II, came to see the outsized value of small units in big fights and understood, as one early SEAL put it, that a “well trained David can kick Goliath in the balls.”
The Navy wanted commando troops able to strike underwater, on the beaches, or from the air—and small independent teams smart and flexible enough to blow up bridges, cut communication lines, train resistance fighters, and assassinate foreign targets, then slip away unnoticed.
In the background was the difficulty of the amphibious invasions of the Pacific Islands in World War II, notably at the Battle of Tarawa where Marines trying to land hit an unseen reef hundreds of yards from the shore.
The Navy had created, as a precursor to the SEALs, underwater demolition teams whose mission was to swim silently to beaches before amphibious landings, chart the depths, defuse mines and blow up obstacles by hand to clear the way.
Business of Terrorism: Vietnam and Phoenix
Vietnam is when the SEALs metamorphosed into jungle fighters and trained professional killers.
A sign at a Mekong bar at the height of the Vietnam War tellingly read: “People who kill for money are professionals. People who kill for fun are sadists. People who kill for money and fun are SEALs.”
The SEALs were first inserted into Vietnam in 1962 as advisers to train South Vietnamese troops to counter National Liberation Front (NLF) guerrillas.
They then worked with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on the classified Operation Phoenix, whose aim was to destroy the NLF’s political infrastructure—including networks of village leaders and tax collectors who had helped the insurgency thrive.
The SEALs’ missions were classified under Phoenix, and other American troops had no idea what to make of these small groups of men with long hair, strange weapons, and no identifying insignia. They moved mostly at night, often wired on Dexedrine or other kinds of speed.
When the mission was to slip in to snatch or kill the enemy, stealth and camouflage became critical. Many started wearing black pajama shirts and going barefoot so they wouldn’t leave American boot prints.
Phoenix operative Mike Beanan wrote about how his whole squad descended into savagery. The job mutated from identifying and killing NLF operatives to sneaking into a village at night to assassinate a village chief and making it look like the NLF had done it.
When the SEALs snatched a sleeping target from a village, they would booby-trap the door of a hut with a grenade set to go off on the next person who came out—who could be women or children. In one such raid, a SEAL unit commanded by future Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey murdered a dozen women and children.
One SEAL ritual was to cut an alleged Viet Cong (VC) with a knife so that the blood would drop all over them. The SEALs would cut an ear or other body part of their victim as a trophy.
“It was a business,” Beanan said, “and the business was terrorism.”
Richard Marcinko, a young lieutenant who commanded a SEAL platoon in the Delta, went by the name “Demo Dick” and called his men “Marcinko’s Merry Band of Murdering Marauders.”
Village by village his team destroyed rice supplies, blew up fishing boats, and burned houses.
As time went on, “Demo Dick” and his men began to not just dress like guerrillas that they were fighting—“we began to think like guerrillas, getting spookier and spookier and dirtier and dirtier.”
According to Marcinko, the “world of the SEALs was rough and tumble macho, full of fuck-you-very much tough talk and I Am the Baddest Motherfucker on the Blockattitude … T-shirts and shorts were the uniform of the day, and if your hair wasn’t quite perfectly combed, well, tough titty dickhead.” A world in short that Eddie Gallagher fit into very well.
After Vietnam Marcinko was put in charge of all SEALs on the East Coast, whose new mission was to establish a super-secret counter-terrorism squad that could hit anywhere in the world.
When Marcinko gathered his new team at a base auditorium near Virginia Beach and got on stage in front of a huge American flag, he proclaimed—with a roar of approval—“you know what we are here to do—counterterrorism. And what does counterterrorism mean? It means that we will fucking do it to them before they fucking do it to us.”
Spirit Lives on—From Demo Dick to the American Sniper to Eddie Gallagher
Demo Dick went to prison in 1990 after getting convicted of a kickback scheme to help a buddy sell grenades to the Navy.
However, his spirit lived on after 9/11 when the SEALs reinvigorated the Phoenix approach in Afghanistan and Iraq.
One of Eddie Gallagher’s role models was Chris Kyle whose SEAL Team 3 spray-painted their trucks, body armor, and helmets with the black skull emblem of a heavily armed comic book anti-hero called the Punisher—modeled after Dirty Harry, the Clint Eastwood character who pursued vigilante justice.
Kyle wrote in American Sniper that “we wanted people to know, we’re here and we want to fuck with you. We’re the people kicking your ass. Fear us. Because we will kill you, motherfucker.”
Eddie Gallagher was cut from the same cloth as “Demo Dick” and Kyle.
According to David Philipps, he “learned the ropes from older frogmen who carried knives and wore pirate patches on their uniform … He was the offspring of [the men] who learned to fight dirtier than the Vietcong and the ‘mafia of motivated dirtbags’ Demo Dick brought together in the 1970s and 1980s.”
No wonder that he turned into such a monster.
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of five books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019), The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018), and Warmonger. How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory From Bush II to Biden (Clarity Press, 2023).
He can be reached at: email@example.com.