Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher of SEAL Team 7, a special operator the past 15 years who has deployed eight times, is living through a betrayal right now, imprisoned while awaiting trial for allegedly knifing an injured ISIS fighter during his last deployment to Mosul in 2017.
His family says he didn’t do it, and claims that an eye witness and video footage help substantiate their claims.
Gallagher is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Over the past eight months, this story has engulfed the military community, and now the nation, in a way no other individual special operator case ever has. Gallagher’s family is on Fox News regularly and has started a large and growing online movement of “Free Eddie” defenders that is growing by the hundreds of thousands.
Never before has the Navy been faced with a public brawl like this over the way they are treating one of their own.
The Eddie Gallagher saga could change the relationship between special operators, their teammates and their more politically-driven commanders forever. Gallagher’s family says win or lose in court, they – along with their legions of supporters, including members of Congress – will never stop fighting Navy brass and what they claim is a targeted mistreatment of special operators.
Trading one battlefield for another
Eddie Gallagher had been confined at Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego for seven months. His family says he was deprived of basic human rights – including inadequate access to his legal team and food – because some of his own SEAL teammates have alleged he committed war crimes.
The gripes apparently started over a stolen Red Bull and other petty grievances, his family says.
Gallagher has since been moved from the brig to less-restrictive barracks at the request of President Donald Trump, after more than 50 members of Congress urged the Navy to reconsider his pre-trial conditions. Gallagher was ironically arrested on the anniversary of 9/11 in 2018. NCIS had pulled Eddie out of a National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) program he was in at the time to be evaluated for a traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to his family. He was taken out of the program to be arrested and he had been kept in pre-trial confinement at the brig until March 30 of this year. A judge had initially ordered that Eddie be kept in pre-trial confinement in the brig after his arrest because it was determined he tried to obstruct justice. Another judge upheld this decision earlier this year.
But the fight for Gallagher’s freedom has only just begun, as his family continues to push back against constant back-and-forth media reports that make Eddie look bad and that they say are based on lies being told to and by the Navy, as well as his commander, Capt. Matthew Rosenbloom, who is insisting Eddie be kept under strict restrictions ahead of his trial in May because he “has reason to believe offenses triable by Court-Martial have been committed.” Rosenbloom unorthodoxically wrote a letter that was given to the press and widely reported, in which he defended himself and his decisions to keep Eddie under such strict restrictions, seemingly pushing back against the spirit of President Trump’s order.
Gallagher’s family accuses the Navy of subverting Trump’s command as reports of insufficient meals and living conditions, increasingly difficult circumstances for visitors and phone calls, and more continue piling up – and his new confinement conditions are almost worse than in the brig, they say.
From Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) quickly picking up this case after Gallagher’s own men allegedly asked what it would take to bring him down, to Navy prosecutors missing pieces of information in their arguments – such as video evidence and an eyewitness who refutes some of the charges – to an orchestrated NCIS raid on the Gallagher’s house in 2018, during which the Gallaghers’ two sons were taken out at gunpoint, in their underwear, deliberately while their dad wasn’t home – the situation brings up more questions and suspicions than it answers.
The Navy prosecution or someone connected to it is suspected of leaking information to the media to make Gallagher look bad, and the judge even had to step in and tell whomever is leaking to knock it off.
And most recently, Gallagher’s defense team filed a motion to remove the confinement restrictions that are hindering his ability to prepare for trial – restrictions that his team says are the result of command attempting to exert “unlawful command influence” – a serious accusation.
We spoke to more than two dozen people who are familiar with the case, including Eddie’s wife, brother, neighbors, family friends, multiple Congressmen, former JAG officers, NCIS and Naval Special Warfare (NSW).
No one has told Gallagher’s story from front to back until now. Most media outlets have defaulted to the accepted norm in covering cases such as this, and treated Gallagher as they have been told to treat him, and how the system regularly treats defendants in the U.S.: guilty, and one of the bad guys, in many cases only because some people made an accusation.
Does that sound familiar?
He’s a modern-day warrior. But almost every time his family makes a TV appearance, it’s to discuss the horrible things that have happened to their husband and brother – not any of the things he has done while fighting for our country.
This is the Eddie Gallagher story.
The ‘whisper campaign’
Gallagher is accused of murdering an already wounded ISIS prisoner during his last deployment to Mosul in 2017. He’s also facing several other charges, after a small group of his younger SEAL teammates went up the chain of command and complained about their older, more-seasoned leader’s war tactics, according to his family.
Why did they not like their leader? Gallagher is 39 years old, and they are young and new to the “teams,” slang for Navy SEAL teams. They allegedly were upset over stolen Red Bulls, not being paid back for a haircut or dinner, and Gallagher’s style of leadership, Eddie’s wife, Andrea Gallagher, told American Military News.
“These guys had no idea what they started,” Andrea said. “There’s a millennial mindset that it’s always someone else’s fault. These people [who have accused Eddie] carry that weaker mindset, ‘It’s you, it’s your fault.’ Eddie said that nothing the team was doing was over and above, that all their tactics were tried and true. Eddie dealt with it as best he could.”
Gallagher, who has two Bronze Stars with “V” for valor, among other awards and recognitions, has served in the military for nearly two decades; his methods are tried and true. He had even been selected to be one of the premier leaders of the SEAL’s most advanced training detachments (TRADET) upon returning from his last deployment, and that was to be his “twilight tour” before retiring in Florida with his wife and three children.
SEAL Team 7 came back from their Mosul deployment in late 2017, and that’s when rumors began about things Eddie Gallagher had allegedly done on the deployment. After what Andrea refers to as a “whisper campaign of the mean girls” who had it out for Eddie, a small group of three to four SEALs made allegations to NCIS in April 2018. NCIS began its investigation into the alleged incidents at that time.
Early in 2018, the Gallaghers suspected something was happening within their community when even Eddie’s command started shrouding the truth about the investigation to the public about what was happening to Eddie and why he was being investigated; no one was being transparent with them, Andrea said.
“It’s like giving someone a grenade and being like, this sucks, but we don’t want this to blow up as an institution, so you’re going to have to deal with it,” she said. “They pushed us out as a family.”
“That’s when it really started to be difficult. We’re not only being betrayed by the people in the community, but now the community itself,” Andrea continued. “People were starting to ask questions. They didn’t understand. We’re a well-known couple, we’ve always had a stellar reputation both individually and as a whole, a strong marriage and strong children.”
“Talk about taking us and throwing us under the bus,” she pointed out.
The Navy SEAL community is notoriously secretive, and family members have bonds and friendships with each other that most in the civilian world can’t comprehend.
“Between April and June 2018, he was shunned and not told anything,” Andrea said. “How awful – to be at the top of an elite group and now cast aside. All that did was give credence to the whisper campaign [since the Gallaghers were in the dark and couldn’t respond publicly, prepare or deal with the rumors at the time]. The community started to think the allegations must be true.”
To be thrown out of a community like this, where you have no one else to talk to about your family’s lifestyle, your husband’s work and more – where no one else understands the things you have gone through – can be devastating.
NCIS raided the Gallagher’s house on June 20, 2018. No one told him about the raid or what was happening to his family until after he was released, hours later, his family says.
From grievances to murder allegations
Between June and September 2018, the Gallaghers learned that what reportedly started out as grievances over stolen Red Bulls, not paying someone back for a haircut or dinner, and broken gun magazines – and later, more serious allegations such as murder and starting unnecessary, indiscriminate firefights with insurgents – are what brought forth the charges against Eddie Gallagher.
The betrayal has been painful for the Gallaghers. They are a family that has not only been a pillar of the SEAL community for 15 years, but also one that has the military running through its veins.
His family argues that Eddie never had a fair shot in this case from the get-go, and it’s one of the glaring indications there’s something happening behind the scenes that the Navy doesn’t want you to know about.
It’s also why his family members have been endlessly and tirelessly trying to get the attention of anyone who will listen, but especially of those who could do something about it.
The Navy did not count on Eddie’s wife and his younger brother, Sean, becoming semi-national celebrities in their fight for Eddie. Most families in this situation stay relatively quiet or simply do not know how to build support.
The news of Eddie’s charges broke in September 2018, when it was reported that Eddie was accused of killing an ISIS fighter “execution-style” with a knife.
Brian O’Rourke, from the Navy Region Southwest press office, told American Military News that Gallagher is charged with several violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which are: premeditated murder, two counts of attempted murder, “retaliation against members of his platoon for reporting criminal actions,” two counts of aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon, willfully discharging a firearm as to endanger human life, wrongfully posing for unofficial photos with a human casualty and obstruction of justice.
In October 2018, Eddie’s officer in charge, Lt. Jacob Portier, was charged with dereliction of duty. The prosecution claims that Portier knew about the alleged war crimes after Eddie’s teammates went to him and complained before taking their case to NCIS, but that Portier didn’t do anything about the alleged crimes at the time. Portier told the SEALs that their allegations held no weight, multiple sources told American Military News.
In November 2018, it was reported after an Article 32 hearing about Eddie allegedly posing with the dead ISIS fighter and a knife, taking a picture, then apparently texting the photo and writing, “I got him with my hunting knife.”
It’s not uncommon for service members to have what some might call a sick sense of humor, even if that seems crass to the common civilian. The dark side of military humor is almost entirely unknown to most civilians, yet there are tens of millions of people who follow military-related social media accounts and post jokes about things like this hourly, daily – non-stop. The dark humor provides relief in a community where PTSD, life trauma and depression are prevalent. Dark humor is a release.
Was Eddie being funny, or was he unwise enough to be admitting to a crime in a photo and sending it to someone?
A judge would later rule in February 2019 that while this was in poor taste, taking a photo with a dead terrorist was not a war crime.
Guilty until proven innocent
While many media leaks made Eddie look bad, there were some reports that seemed to exonerate Eddie of some of the charges against him.
It had been reported in November 2018 for the first time that there was video footage of the ISIS fighter in question, whom Eddie is alleged to have killed, and that the footage showed the terrorist was critically wounded when he was captured and brought to the SEAL team for medical treatment.
“If you are accused of something, ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is flipped in the military,” Eddie’s younger brother, Sean, told American Military News.
“Eddie can’t say anything other than ‘not guilty’ right now. But the prosecution, at every legal mechanism, gets to say whatever they want at this point,” he stressed.
In late January, there was a bombshell report that several Navy SEALs were granted immunity to testify in Eddie’s case.
However, it was initially incorrectly reported that at least seven Navy SEALs had secured immunity to testify against Eddie. That is not the case: the SEALs can speak to both the prosecution and defense lawyers in Gallagher’s trial. This story went national and again made Eddie look bad because of the way the facts were initially framed.
In February of this year, military judge Capt. Aaron Rugh called out leaks to the press about Eddie, saying that such claims could taint a jury in the case and jeopardize the fairness of Eddie’s Court-Martial trial.
Then, in yet another disappointing blow to his family, Eddie’s trial was delayed from Feb. 25 to May 28.
In a silver lining, the judge also ruled at the time that a key eyewitness must be called to testify. He determined that Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abbas al-Jubouri is a “necessary witness” and must be brought to trial, one of Gallagher’s defense attorneys at the time, Colby Vokey, had exclusively told American Military News.
“Our investigator finally got through and talked with Abbas. … The general was there before, during and after [the ISIS prisoner] died, and he said Eddie didn’t kill him,” Vokey had said. “He also said many complimentary things about Eddie.” Vokey is no longer part of Gallagher’s defense team.
Aside from his family, legal team and close family friends, not many people want to talk publicly about Eddie’s case.
The Navy has been a black box of secrecy around this case except for the leaks that mysteriously keep surfacing and make Eddie look bad – until recently, when NSW spoke out to address Eddie’s pre-trial restrictions. A letter sent from NSW Group 1 Commodore Capt. Matthew Rosenbloom – Eddie’s commander – prompted Gallagher’s defense team to quickly file a motion to ease the restrictions, calling out unlawful command influence.
Congress, Trump step in
Several elected officials have begun to see the obviously unorthodox circumstances around this case, including Congressmen Marine officer combat veteran Duncan Hunter and former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw.
Hunter, a former Marine officer and combat veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, had not only been increasingly vocal about Eddie’s mistreatment while imprisoned, but he went so far as to visit Eddie in the brig. Hunter has also sent multiple letters to both President Trump and NCIS in order to get some answers to what he told American Military News is a case of “prosecutors gone wild” in the U.S. Navy.
Trump stepped in after more than 50 members of Congress called for urgent attention to the case, and two letters sent by two groups of Congressmen were sent to the U.S. Navy demanding action.
While the outcome of her husband’s case remains unknown, Andrea remains steadfast in her mission to spread the word about Eddie’s case as widely as possible.
She has an Instagram following of more than 32,000 people, and she has also documented every step of their family’s situation on the website Justice For Eddie.
“As a spouse, you spend your life supporting these men and these missions. And to think you can be thrown under the bus by your own command and government… It’s unthinkable,” Andrea said.
The outcome of the case is “going to set a precedent,” she pointed out.
“Anyone can say anything,” Andrea said. “If we’re holding people as guilty until proven innocent, we’re in trouble. That’s not the way America should be.”
The Gallagher case has ripped off layers of bandages that were covering up a broken system intended for serving justice; this system seemingly does the opposite and is, in fact, set up to crush people.
Eddie Gallagher’s case exposes the politics of the military justice system, and how an accused man who wants nothing more than to clear his name, or at least have a fair opportunity to do so, must now jump through legal and bureaucratic hoops, and fight leaks to the media in order to get a fair shake.
There will surely be more twists and turns before Gallagher’s trial in late May.
The outcome of his case is expected to unravel the fabric of our nation’s SEAL teams. At the very least, sources have agreed it would expose a massive cultural gap in how young service members are approaching war as something glamorous, sexy and even “easy” rather than what it is: bloody, raw and brutal, requiring real-life decisions that have staggering consequences.
It’s not for the faint of heart.
Editor’s Note: This article has been edited to reflect that Brian O’Rourke is from the Navy Region Southwest Press office. It has also been edited to reflect that a judge ordered that Gallagher be kept in pre-trial confinement in the brig after his arrest because it was determined he tried to obstruct justice. Another judge upheld this decision earlier this year.