Critics deride CBS report on Navy SEAL accused of war crimes

Critics slam a 60 Minutes segment featuring Edward Gallagher, who was charged and acquitted of war crimes in Iraq.

A report by the CBS news programme 60 Minutes on Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who had been accused of war crimes while serving with the SEAL force in Iraq in 2017, has prompted a backlash on social media, with some claiming the segment “laundered” Gallagher’s reputation. 

Navy prosecutors had accused Gallagher of stabbing to death a wounded captive fighter of ISIL (ISIS) in Iraq in 2017, attempting to murder civilians that he randomly fired at from a sniper nest and obstruction of justice.

The case took a turn when a key witness and a fellow SEAL testified that he, not Gallagher, had killed the captive, while nevertheless standing by his and other soldiers’ claim that Gallagher had plunged a knife into the teenage fighter’s neck. 

A jury acquitted Gallagher, who had the public support of President Donald Trump, of the most serious charges, while finding him guilty on the lesser charge of posing for a group photo with the body of the dead fighter. 

The 60 Minutes segment ends with Gallagher at his Florida home showing correspondent David Martin a wall of his service memorabilia and the knife he had been accused of using to kill the ISIL fighter.

Critics seized on the clip after it was tweeted by 60 Minutes, with David M Perry, a journalist and historian,  saying the programme was “glamourising” Gallagher.

“They have a tweetup celebrating the knife he used to murder a captive,” Perry wrote. “Everyone involved with this episode, including those who greenlighted and oversaw the episode, should resign or be fired.”

Meanwhile, Rowaida Abdelaziz, a national reporter for the Huffington Post who covers Islamophobia, detailed the range of allegations against Gallagher in a tweet, sarcastically writing: “But sure, let’s give him the airtime.”

‘Laundered by the media’

Gallagher became a cause celebre for conservative media and Trump in the lead up to the trial. Trump has described the soldier as “one of the ultimate fighters” and a “tough guy”. 

Following the trial, Trump twice intervened to undo Navy punishments, first to restore Gallagher’s rank and then to prevent his removal from the elite SEAL force.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was eventually fired for his handling of the situation.

In the 60 Minutes report, published on Sunday, correspondent Martin also interviewed two members of Gallagher’s legal team, as well as his wife, who detailed how she built an online campaign for her husband that eventually caught the attention of the media and the president. 

During the interview, Gallagher again denied the allegations against him, while calling the photo of him posing with the dead teenage fighter, holding the head up by the hair and brandishing a knife, “wrong” and “distasteful”, while adding it was a common occurrence on deployments. 

Trump mulls pardon for soldier accused of Iraq war crime

He also suggested that the decision by members of his platoon to come forward with the alleged crimes had been “sparked” by his tough leadership, echoing earlier claims that the allegations against him had been constructed by six disgruntled subordinates who could not meet his standards. 

Critics, however, further accused the 60 Minutes report of doing a disservice to the SEALs who had spoken out against Gallagher, coming forward to detail accusations that included randomly shooting an Iraqi civilian girl and an elderly man from a sniper’s nest and spraying rocket and machine-gun fire indiscriminately into neighbourhoods.

In investigative interviews leaked to the New York Times after the trial, members of Gallagher’s SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon described him as “evil”, “toxic” and “personally okay with killing anybody that was moving”.

“The Eddie Gallagher interview on @60Minutes by @CBSDavidMartin was lopsided, unbalanced & unfair to the brave soldiers who dared testify against him,” tweeted Jim Heath, an author and broadcast journalist. 

“You expect Trump & Fox News to try to rehabilitate his image, but not @CBSNews,” he wrote.

Imraan Siddiqi, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Arizona branch, tweeted that Gallagher’s reputation is being “laundered by the media”.

“This is a proof of the cheapness of brown, black and especially Muslim blood in the eyes of the Western establishment,” he wrote. 

Others online used #Boycott60Minutes to call on others to quit watching the channel. 

A spokesman for 60 Minutes did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment. 

Source: Al Jazeera