The Navy SEALs showed up one by one, wearing hoodies and T-shirts instead of uniforms, to tell investigators what they had seen. Visibly nervous, they shifted in their chairs, rubbed their palms and pressed their fists against their foreheads. At times they stopped in midsentence and broke into tears.
“Sorry about this,” Special Operator 1st Class Craig Miller, one of the most experienced SEALs in the group, said as he looked sideways toward a blank wall, trying to hide that he was weeping. “It’s the first time — I’m really broken up about this.”
Video recordings of the interviews obtained by the New York Times, which have not been shown publicly before, were part of a trove of Navy investigative materials about the prosecution of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher on war crimes charges, including murder.
They offer the first opportunity outside the courtroom to hear directly from the men of Alpha platoon, SEAL Team 7, whose blistering testimony about their platoon chief was dismissed by President Donald Trump when he upended the military code of justice to protect Gallagher from punishment.
“The guy is freaking evil,” Miller told investigators.
“The guy was toxic,” Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview.
“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.
Such dire descriptions of Gallagher, who had eight combat deployments and sometimes went by the nickname “Blade,” are in marked contrast to Trump’s portrayal of him at a recent political rally in Florida as one of “our great fighters.”
Although combat in Iraq barely fazed the SEALs, sitting down to tell Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents about what they had seen their platoon chief do during a 2017 deployment in Iraq was excruciating for them. Not only did they have to relive wrenching events and describe grisly scenes, they had to break a powerful unwritten code of silence in the SEALs, one of the nation’s most elite commando forces.
The trove of materials also includes thousands of text messages the SEALs sent one another about the events and the prosecution of Gallagher. Together with the dozens of hours of recorded interviews, they provide revealing insights into the men of the platoon, who have never spoken publicly about the case and the leader they turned in.
Platoon members said they saw Gallagher shoot civilians and fatally stab a wounded captive with a hunting knife. Gallagher was acquitted by a military jury in July of all but a single relatively minor charge and was cleared of all punishment in November by Trump.
Video from a SEAL’s helmet camera, included in the trove of materials, shows the barely conscious captive — a teenage ISIS fighter so thin that his watch slid easily up and down his arm — being brought in to the platoon one day in May 2017. Then the helmet camera is shut off.
In the video interviews with investigators, three SEALs said they saw Gallagher go on to stab the sedated captive for no reason and then hold an impromptu reenlistment ceremony over the body, as if it were a trophy.
“I was listening to it, and I was just thinking, like, this is the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Miller, who has since been promoted to chief, told investigators.
Miller said that when the platoon commander, Lt. Jacob Portier, told the SEALs to gather over the corpse for photos, he did not feel he could refuse. The photos, included in the evidence obtained by the Times, show Gallagher, surrounded by other SEALs, clutching the dead captive’s hair; in one photo, he holds a custom-made hunting knife.
“I think Eddie was proud of it, and that was, like, part of it for him,” Miller told investigators.
Gallagher’s lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, said the video interviews were rife with inconsistencies and falsehoods that created “a clear road map to the acquittal.”
Since his arrest nearly a year ago, Gallagher has insisted that the charges against him were concocted by six disgruntled SEALs in his platoon who could not meet his high standards and wanted to force him out.
“My first reaction to seeing the videos was surprise and disgust that they would make up blatant lies about me, but I quickly realized that they were scared that the truth would come out of how cowardly they acted on deployment,” Gallagher said in a statement issued through his lawyer.
In cramped interview rooms in San Diego, SEALs who spoke to Navy investigators painted a picture of a platoon driven to despair by a chief who seemed to care primarily about racking up kills. They described how their chief targeted women and children and boasted that “burqas were flying.”
Asked whether the chief had a bias against Middle Eastern people, Scott replied, “I think he just wants to kill anybody he can.”
Some of the SEALs said they came to believe that the chief was purposefully exposing them to enemy fire to bait ISIS fighters into revealing their positions. They said the chief thought casualties in the platoon would increase his chances for a Silver Star.
Seven members of the 22-person platoon testified at the trial that they saw the chief commit war crimes. Two men from the platoon testified that they did not see any evidence of crimes.
Others refused to cooperate with prosecutors, which, a lawyer for some of the men said, they would not do without being granted immunity. Crucially, one SEAL who had accused the chief during the investigation — Scott — changed his story on the witness stand, testifying that he and not Gallagher had caused the captive’s death.
Three of the men who testified at the trial left the Navy afterward and have been trying to keep a low profile while they build civilian lives. Others are still in the SEAL teams, in some cases working on classified assignments. Some fear that coming forward has hurt their chances at success in the SEALs, but none have reported any retaliation. All of them declined to comment for this article.
Since the trial, Gallagher has repeatedly insulted them on social media and on Fox News, especially Miller, whom the chief singled out for weeping while talking to investigators.
Gallagher retired from the Navy with full honors at the end of November and announced that he was starting a SEAL-themed clothing line.
A few days after he retired, an Instagram account belonging to him and his wife posted a photo of a custom-made hatchet, forged by the same SEAL veteran who made the hunting knife he was accused of using to kill the captive. Before the deployment, Gallagher had told the knife-maker he hoped to “dig that knife or hatchet on someone’s skull!”
“Eddie finally got his stuff back from NCIS,” the post said, listing the hatchet among a “few of our favorite things now returned.”
Another item returned to him was a black-and-white ISIS flag. Last Saturday, Gallagher presented Trump with a folded black-and-white cloth that other SEALs from the platoon said appeared to be the flag.
A post on the chief’s Instagram account said, “Finally got to thank the President and his amazing wife by giving them a little gift from Eddie’s deployment to Mosul.”