Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) has come under fire after admitting during a podcast interview that his Marine Corps unit “killed probably hundreds of civilians” during the atrocity-laden First Battle of Fallujah in 2004.
Hunter’s comments came during an interview on Barstool Sports’ “Zero Blog Thirty” podcast in which he voiced support for Edward Gallagher, a decorated Navy SEAL facing trial for alleged war crimes, including shooting unarmed civilians and stabbing a critically wounded prisoner of war to death.
When asked about his support for Gallagher, Hunter doubled down. “I frankly don’t care if he was killed,” the congressman said, referring to the 17-year-old Islamic State fighter allegedly stabbed to death by the SEAL. “I just don’t care. And as a congressman, that’s my prerogative to help a guy out like that.”
“Even if everything the prosecutors say is true in this case, then… Eddie Gallagher should still be given a break,” Hunter added.
In addition to premeditated murder, military prosecutors accuse Gallagher, a SEAL Team 7 sniper, of crimes including photographing and staging a re-enlistment ceremony over his victim’s body, as well as “indiscriminate, reckless and bloodthirsty” conduct. Fellow snipers say he shot an unarmed old man, as well as a young girl who was walking with her friends. One SEAL said he saw Gallagher “fire into a crowd of what appeared to be noncombatants multiple times.” Gallagher also allegedly confessed that he “killed four women” and boasted that he killed “10 to 20 people a day or 150-200 people on deployment.” Other SEALs say Gallagher attempted to cover up his crimes by threatening to murder witnesses and by trying to identify, expose and destroy whistleblowers.
According to US veterans of the assault, as well as survivors, journalists, medical personnel, human rights groups and others, Marines indiscriminately killed men, women, children, the elderly and disabled residents of the city.
“Chief Gallagher decided to act like the monster the terrorists accuse us of being,” Navy prosecutor Chris Czaplak said of the defendant. “He handed ISIS propaganda manna from heaven. His actions are everything ISIS says we are.”
When one “Zero Blog Thirty” host – another former Marine – suggested that the congressman’s willingness to show leniency to Gallagher “goes against our honor so egregiously” and presents “such a slippery slope,” Hunter replied with a stunning admission.
“So how do you judge me?” he asked. “I was an artillery officer and we fired hundreds of rounds into Fallujah, killed probably hundreds of civilians… Probably killed women and children if there were any left in the city when we invaded. So do I get judged too?”
Hunter, who rose to the rank of major, completed two tours of duty in Iraq and one of Afghanistan while on active duty, and was later redeployed to Afghanistan as a reservist. During his second tour in Iraq, he participated in the atrocity-laden First Battle of Fallujah, officially called Operation Vigilant Resolve, in the spring of 2004. According to US veterans of the assault, as well as survivors, journalists, medical personnel, human rights groups and others, Marines indiscriminately killed men, women, children, the elderly and disabled residents of the city. Civilians waving white flags of surrender were cut down by snipers, who also targeted ambulances carrying the wounded and dying to the few remaining functional clinics left in the city.
According to the US military, 600 civilians were killed during Vigilant Resolve, which failed to achieve its objective of crushing Fallujah’s resistance to US occupation. A second assault on the city in November-December 2004, Operation Phantom Fury, resulted in the deaths of around 800 more civilians. It was during Vigilant Resolve that commanding general James Mattis earned the moniker “Mad Dog.” After President Donald Trump nominated Mattis for defense secretary, Hunter responded to questions of whether the general was a war criminal by telling critics to “get over it.”
“Fallujah was the last free-fire zone for artillery for the entire Iraq war,” Hunter explained. “I can clearly recall… that the rules of engagement allowed for targeting anyone out during curfew. Did we utterly decimate? Yes… and we won… [so] to [even] question whether Mattis committed war crimes in Iraq is absurd.”
Hunter has a history of confessing to troubling behavior. Last month, he told a town hall meeting that “Eddie [Gallagher] did one bad thing that I’m guilty of too – taking a picture of the body and saying something stupid.” According to the Defense Department’s Law of War Manual, enemy military dead must be treated with “the same respect as would be afforded to, or expected for, friendly military dead.”
In addition to defending alleged war crimes, Hunter has also said that if the US wages war against Iran, it should be a nuclear war.
There were audible gasps in a San Diego military court after a judge, Capt. Aaron Rugh, unexpectedly ordered Gallagher released from pretrial detention on Thursday, less than two weeks before his June 10 trial is scheduled to begin. Rugh accused prosecutors of interfering with Gallagher’s defense counsel and delaying his trial. President Donald Trump, who has already interceded on Gallagher’s behalf, said he has been considering pardons for numerous US troops accused of war crimes, including Gallagher. While campaigning for president, Trump promised to commit at least two war crimes in the fight against Islamist terrorists. He vowed to “bomb the shit out of” Islamic State militants and “take out their families,” and he endorsed torture, saying he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
Meanwhile, Hunter and his wife Margaret – who were indicted last August on 60 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, records falsification and campaign finance violations related to the alleged misuse of $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses – are due to appear in court to stand trial later this year.
Brett Wilkins is editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CommonDreams.