The Devils We Don’t Know

Unwrapping raw information from the various cultural and social overlays can be maddening, especially in politics. The punditry, special pleading, and white knighting can be dizzying, and making heads or tails of things is often too much of a labor for the average news consumer. That’s why we look to sources. Established reprieves of thought and information we self-segregate and nestled into for the takes we trust. Perhaps no nightly news program better fits the centrist, "just the facts" review of the here-and-now better than 60 Minutes. In its first episode of March, Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL convicted of posing with a dead enemy and subsequently pardoned by President Trump, was profiled to speak about the case. This is, to date, the only public response Gallagher has given about the crimes in question, as he was never called to the stand during his trial.

Beneath the sophistry from just about everyone on the case, Gallagher’s moment in the public eye is extremely telling. In an era when the troops are paraded continuously about as living examples of full-bellied freedom and benevolent peacemaking, Gallagher was thrust on stage in a handsome dress uniform. Meanwhile, photos of he and his team posing with the body of a teenage insurgent were circulating the internet. Fortunately for him, his well-shined shoes happened to tread on fertile ground. The soldier-worship of this moment can’t be overstated – from stateside line-cooks to highly-trained operators – every member of the armed forces are due endless, nauseating waves of veneration. So unifying, in fact, that both the ruddy-skinned MAGA barfly and the New England soccer mom alike can’t fall over themselves fast enough to unfurl a flag in their direction or thank them for their service. Briefly, the ribbon-crested chest of the military man and the reality of the Global War on Terror collided in the public arena for our viewing pleasure.

Except, as we who care about US military adventurism know too well, the story was only ever told as if transcribed from Lady Liberty herself. Though the implications of this case should be far-reaching, with partisans from both sides taking the opportunity to critically examine their sacred cows, there’s no sense holding your breath. Like any other revealing story of the last ten years, Gallagher serves only as a trench whistle for each side to go over the top and face-off with the "true enemy."

Importantly, Eddie Gallagher’s case only came to light when his team began speaking out. Reports spanning several deployments from the guys he was fighting alongside demonstrate Gallagher’s complete disregard for innocent life in US-occupied countries. Stories ranged from shots being fired at unwitting passersby, shooting a little girl in a tense ISIS commander standoff, and the backbreaking straw of the dead ISIS fighter in the photograph he violently stabbed. When we consider the self-proclaimed and internally fortified bonds of fraternal organizations like the SEALs, much like police and firefighters, the gravitas of defiant voices becomes even more credible. This isn’t a store clerk reporting a fellow cashier for skimming from the drawer. Even shedding the bravado and hyperbole, these people fight and die alongside one another in far-off lands, isolated in small cohorts, suffering collectively. The mental and social barriers to publicly dissenting from an extremely selective in-group should be condemnation enough. This is especially true for those red-skinned beer sluggers and Escalade soccer moms who value the troops so dearly. These are SEALs ratting on SEALs! If a capo from some mafia family came out decrying one of his fellow garrote-choking, cigar-smoking buddies, saying he was made to feel uneasy after a mission and publicly referred to him as "evil," the court of public opinion would be done deliberating before the chyron faded.

Shortly after the unnamed ISIS combatant’s death and photo-op, Eddie sent the picture to a fellow SEAL with the text, "Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife." In the 60 Minutes interview, Gallagher reassures us, "’I was trying to make it look tough, yeah,’ Gallagher said. ‘I know how bad it looks when it gets out into the public, which it never was supposed to.’" What then, haven’t we seen? How many trophy walls are adorned with photos of gloved hands holding the limp heads of Middle Eastern men? How many forward-deployed lips are sealed? With such a defense, what are the sins of the devils we don’t know?

It’s important to note, Corey Scott, the SEAL who reported the ISIS teen being stabbed to death by Gallagher, changed his tune on the witness stand. Under the condition of immunity, Scott said during his testimony that even though Gallagher stabbed him in the neck, it was Scott himself who ultimately killed him. A mercy killing, he says per the Times, by putting a thumb over his breathing tube because, "he knew he was going to die anyways." The prosecution promptly pointed out that throughout the investigation he had never shared this critical piece of information and was likely doing so now only to protect his former teammate. Scott denied this, though did say on the stand he did not want to see Chief Gallagher go to jail. Gallagher maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings and was eventually found not guilty of murder. Several SEALs aside from Scott maintained Gallagher did attack the kid, offering grisly details of Eddie stabbing him, "in the jugular at least twice," with blood spitting out like, "a baby throwing up." The jury was apparently satisfied those injuries were not life-threatening or worthy of conviction.

Instead of a collective slaughter of their sacred cows following the case, commenters on the Gallagher trial and conviction doubled down in the most extraneous ways. From the 60 Minutes piece, "Evan Hafer, a former Green Beret and co-founder of the veteran-run company Black Rifle Coffee, argued that more must be done to support war-fighters who have carried, ‘the burden and the psychological and physical weight,’ of the global war on terror for, ‘over almost two decades now.'” Of all things, our veterans are under-served, he says. After two decades of fighting, with more terrorists than ever before, trillions of dollars spent, millions of dead civilians, and a candlelight vigil for nearly every Smalltown, USA, you’d think Hafer and his fellow travelers would have more pressing humanitarian concerns. This isn’t the first time 60 Minutes aired the sentiment that the cost of "other blood" is really no price at all. Remember the now infamous 1992 episode of 60 Minutes, featuring the callous defense of Madeleine Albright’s that starving half a million kids to death for foreign policy aims in Iraq was reasonable? "We think it’s worth it," her steady voice asserted, when asked about the veracity of child death statistics after Iraqi blockades. Somehow Evan and those huddled around Gallagher never seem to ask if the costs of these wars are worth it, only that the troops aren’t getting enough tender loving care. Self-made martyrs for the war on terror, I wonder if the Gallagher’s spend quiet evenings around the dinner table lambasting the Bush administration for putting him over there?

As a matter of fact, we can surmise the answer. Eddie’s wife, Andrea, shared her pain after the arrest, “All those years sacrificing my husband, every holiday, every birthday willingly giving our family to the cause to fight the war on terror. This is not something we took lightly. We’ve committed our entire life, our children’s lives and our marriage to the cause.” The warrant execution and raid were apparently abrupt, with Andrea describing police as, "kitted-up" and, "looking ready for war," as they stacked up on their front porch; a tactic her husband is plenty familiar. As her kids sat outside in their underwear with cops rifling through their home, their dignity left for dead on the altar of GWOT, I have to imagine Andrea missed the tragic irony of the whole thing. Police defended their tactics as standard procedure, a favorite fallback for police and for the military. Eddie and Andrea likely never had the sobering realization that those horrors are the constant reality for Iraqi families under 15 years of military occupation. All a part of their glorious "cause."

It’s a shame so many families have been forced to make the war on terror an inextricable part of their family’s identities, wearing deployments like a badge of honor instead of an unfortunate black eye. Even with relatively platonic family ties to the military, where little threat exists on deployments, is "sacrifice" the healthy outlook for children subject to absent parents because of senseless wars? The line between ardent support and bitter revulsion seems razor-thin, often complicated by which side of the earth their loved one rests on. Gallagher was well suited to exploit this fevered base of military families and supporters, rallied at the top by the consummate populist himself, Trump.

Teams red and blue clashed as the decision to pardon was made. Trump defended Gallagher as a war hero and fired the Navy Secretary who tried to undermine his efforts. Detractors called the move brash, a miscarriage of justice, irresponsible. Each team scored a few points for their side and hurried us along before the two-minutes hate stopped looking like a montage and started reading like a deep dive into US imperialism.

The smoldering embers left by Gallagher both overseas and in the military justice system remain faintly lit, as Eddie himself walks away unscathed. But even as the storm settles from the 60 Minutes interview, thoughtful reflection for media or its consumers isn’t likely to follow. In the typical fashion of the day, news items become objectified and melted down into ammunition for hurling at the other side without a second thought. Gallagher should be the face of corruption at "the tip of the spear." A thorn in the side of Trump politically – and his supporters morally – Eddie’s abject disdain for faceless proles in US subjugated countries isn’t an aberration, but a mission accomplished. Somewhere early on the Iraqis (as well as the Afghans, Somalis, Yemenis, Libyans, Syrians, Iranians, etc.) became mere silhouette targets to hone one’s skills on; morphing from oppressed masses to be valiantly saved into aggravating adversaries. Eddie Gallagher, it turns out, is the embodiment of "the cause" of the US global terror wars. The zealous believer delivering violent "democracy" at the barrel of a gun to a people opposing his very presence in their home. It isn’t any wonder the face of illegal 21st century war-making would be found "not guilty."

John Dangelo is a libertarian blogger and full-time ER nurse. You can find him and follow him on Twitter @antiwarwarvet.