The Eddie Gallagher Saga is the Iraq War in Microcosm
A hasty, poorly edited response to the recent NYT piece on Chief Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL who will face court-martial next month.
This week, Dave Phillips of the New York Times published his investigative piece chronicling the alleged crimes of Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher. He wrote at length not only of Gallagher’s gratuitous violence in Iraq, but also of the heroism displayed by the whistleblowers in his own platoon. It was a journalistic moment deserving of the praise it received; what the article lacked in pathos it made up for in sheer investigative rigor. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that the account was lacking in one significant area — maybe the most significant area.
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably long forgotten about the war in Iraq. News coverage about a recent US assault on ISIL territory or simply instability in the region writ large may occasionally remind you of those golden years but, for the most part, your political dialogue is inundated with new problems, not old ones. There remain those of us, however, who cannot forget. Who will not forget. And, if you’re one of us, you likely shared our response after reading Phillips’ article: “Of course this happened in Iraq…it was Iraq”. Typically, such statements are made in order to soften the gravity of alleged crimes or improprieties (i.e. the oft touted “fog of war”), but here it serves to place the acts of Chief Gallagher is their proper, broader context. That’s what Dave Phillips’ NYT article neglects to do.
According to court documents, Eddie Gallagher committed heinous war crimes during his eight deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. He murdered unarmed, noncombatant women and children, he stabbed an injured, teenaged prisoner of war to death, and he shot into crowds indiscriminately (this is far from an exhaustive list). I had heard/seen Gallagher’s name once back in September upon his arrest and, truthfully, thought little of it. So, when I finally read the full account, I was struck by the severity of his crimes. I feel sure we all were. You might be asking how this could have happened. Phillips would have you believe a SEAL culture of aggression and secrecy is to blame. It’s a fair assumption, especially given what we now know about just how difficult it was for the concerned men in Gallagher’s Team 7 Alpha Platoon to report the acts to, well, anyone. But there’s much more to the story (about eight years more). So, how could this have happened? I’ll tell you.
Eddie Gallagher is yet another soldier found to have done illegal things in the midst of an illegal war.
While Gallagher was murdering young children walking to the river with their friends, the United States was carpet-bombing towns, pillaging untold amounts of Iraq’s natural resources, and systematically destabilizing what was left of Iraqi institutions. Eddie Gallagher is yet another soldier found to have done illegal things in the midst of an illegal war. The US invasion of Iraq was not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council and ergo neither were any kinetic US actions within the state thereafter. From 2003 to 2011, the United States was in constant breach of the UN’s founding charter, murdering 800,000 Iraqi civilians in the process (a, shall we say, charitable estimate). It was a war that was quite simply not ours to fight and one that was born out of lies concerning phantom weapons of mass destruction, the egos of demagogues like George W. Bush and Tony Blair, and opportunistic agendas by Western powers to seize control of vulnerable oil reserves. Such a toxic course of action at the state level was always sure to trickle down to the duties of the common soldier, and it did…more than a few times.
The causal links behind our invasion of Iraq were, at the time, as much a mystery to our soldiers on the ground as they were to Americans back home. There were no WMDs, there were no Al-Qaeda ties, and there was little in the way of an exit strategy. Soldiers knew this. Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher knew this. So while Bush, Blair, Rumsfeld and the like were bumbling over their words at press conferences crafting false explanations for their hasty “mistakes”, the Eddie Gallaghers of the world were in a sandbox fiddling with their high-capacity-magazine toys under the impression they had a “job to do”. Ideally, war crimes like those committed by Gallagher would come to light and be prosecuted quickly and in any conflict. But in a war in which even those who perpetrated it knew should have never taken place, governments and military leaders were in no hurry to publicize the misdeeds of their oh-so-special boots on the ground. On the contrary, they covered them up.
On May 28th, Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will face court-martial. He will either face justice for his crimes, or he will not. If Gallagher is found guilty, Donald Trump will either pardon him, or he will not. The intrigue of this entire saga is immense, but it is important, vital even, to remember that these crimes took place in a theatre wrought with comparable offenses, making the story a microcosm of the entire illegal invasion and occupation of the state of Iraq. Let’s be quick to condemn Eddie Gallagher. Let’s be quick to applaud those who reported him. But let’s be just as fast to remember the environment in which his crimes were committed: an environment of illegality, hate, and lies.