August 18, 2022

In struggle, fact is the primary casualty.

Aeschylus

The Greek warrior Achilles occupies a novel place in legend and lore as one of many first anti-heroes in western literature. The protagonist of Homer’s Iliad, Achilles is invincible in battle, immortalized by his prowess within the occupation of arms, and really heroic not solely within the eyes of his compatriots however in his personal. But there may be one other narrative right here. The Iliad is a narrative of anger and revenge; of bloodlust and desecration; of envy, satisfaction, and ambition; and of ethical unsuitable in struggle. This narrative is just not that of an immortal hero, however that of a flawed mortal man.

David Phillips’ new e book, ALPHA: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy SEALS, recounts the competing narratives that swirled round Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher, the Navy SEAL charged with struggle crimes dedicated throughout his 2017 fight tour in Iraq. Gallagher can be tried by court-martial in 2019 and acquitted of all prices save one. The case was a subject of nationwide and worldwide information, created a social media firestorm, challenged the highest navy and civilian management of the Navy, and infuriated the President of the USA.

A gifted author who captures the uncooked and unfiltered language of the SEALs in his e book, Phillips can also be a demonstrably dogged researcher who spent two years in his effort “to sift the information from a pile of confusion, misinformation and intentional lies.” In ALPHA, Phillips items collectively a story of SEAL Staff 7, Alpha platoon, from hundreds of pages of Navy paperwork and courtroom transcripts, personnel data, movies, and hundreds of textual content messages from Gallagher and the members of Alpha platoon. The writer additionally made makes an attempt to interview Gallagher for the e book; all have been refused.

However Gallagher was by no means silent. In public, he denied each accusation. On a web site, on social media, and thru members of his household, Gallagher informed his story. Within the just lately launched AppleTV docuseries, The Line, directed by Doug Schultz and Jeff Zimbalist, Gallagher seems in quite a few interviews all through the 4 episodes. The Line additionally captures the uncooked and unfiltered language of Alpha platoon, not solely in sit-down interviews, however in unedited helmet digicam fight movies taken throughout the fierce combat for management of Mosul, Iraq. As companion works on the identical topic, the e book and the docuseries are insightful, disturbing, provocative, and revelatory.

Making the Myrmidons?

On the time of his 2017 deployment to Iraq, Gallagher was extremely educated, nicely regarded, and exceptionally expert. He had handed via the crucible of Navy Fundamental Underwater Demolition/SEALs (BUD/S) coaching and wore the coveted gold Trident, the particular operations warfare pin. He had been designated as a BUD/S teacher, becoming a member of a cadre of males of “pure muscle and menace . . . putting down hubris like historic gods” tearing down SEAL candidates and rebuilding them because the Navy’s most elite warriors. Gallagher was a veteran of eight fight excursions, a embellished sailor with two Bronze Stars, and he was superior underneath the rigorous scrutiny of aggressive boards that ranked him towards his friends to change into a non-commissioned officer (NCO), Chief Particular Warfare Operator.

Assigned to Alpha platoon of Seal Staff 7, Gallagher was the senior enlisted chief of the unit and drove that group of eighteen males relentlessly. “Alpha had been recognized for a lot of years as one of many worst platoons . . . Nevertheless it had shortly change into one of the best. And a giant cause for that, all of them knew, was Chief Eddie Gallagher.” What Achilles was to the Myrmidons, Gallagher was to Alpha. He was revered and admired by males of the platoon, “he pushed them to deal with the stuff they’d want in fight however didn’t sweat useless stuff . . . He was their chief, their mentor, and their buddy.” 

Briefly, Gallagher seemed to be all that the Navy and the nation anticipated and demanded of SEALs, and as Phillips explains:

They have been the lads who within the absence of broad strategic victory may nonetheless ship wins—the fellows who shot terrorists within the face and dropped from helicopters onto cargo ships to free hostages, the fellows who killed Osama bin Laden. They have been proof that within the face of repeated navy failures, America was nonetheless nice. And the nation liked them for it.

Throughout the run-up to Gallagher’s trial, this was the compelling narrative on social media platforms and within the conservative press that resonated with the American public and proved enduring, even plain for a lot of. It was the welcome story of a hard younger man who lastly finds his method, marries his highschool sweetheart, builds a profitable navy profession, raises a household, is a mentor to his juniors, is admired by his seniors, and who willingly and courageously fights the nation’s wars.

However within the pages of ALPHA, Phillips tells one other story, a story simply as compelling however one with out the shadows that cloaked the reality. Barely capable of make it via highschool, Gallagher struggled within the Navy. A drunken fistfight with an officer stained his document as did his poor scores on customary navy aptitude assessments. He did not advance. His repeated functions to affix the SEAL group have been denied till the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drained the ranks that recruiters have been pressed to fill. Gallagher failed his first strive on the SEALs fight medical course regardless of his prior coaching as a corpsman. He was separated from his SEAL platoon in Afghanistan in 2009 for causes that stay unclear. He assaulted a pupil when he was a BUD/S teacher however was then quietly reassigned. Gallagher additionally struggled with drug use. Gallagher was one in every of numberless SEALs who was hooked on the opiate Tramadol, stored it a intently guarded secret, after which enabled each other to illicitly safe the drug as soon as it turned a managed substance. He was additionally dosing with the stimulant Provigil and injecting himself with testosterone.

Phillips’ portrait of Gallagher additionally paints him tellingly as a “darker, meaner human being,” and the darkish facet of the SEAL group appealed to Gallagher. Ever because the Vietnam Battle—and the SEALs’ participation within the infamous PHOENIX Program of CIA-orchestrated ambushes, kidnappings, torture, and homicide—the group had struggled to seek out its id as a warfighting group. The struggle divided the SEALs into two camps. The boys in a single camp noticed themselves as a choose brotherhood of warriors, loyal to nation, dedicated to mission, and strengthened with a transparent code of conduct. These males have been typically “derisively known as ‘boy scouts,’ who noticed regulation and order as important to each the mission and the brotherhood’s soul.” Then there have been so-called “pirates.” Phillips describes these males as fiercely loyal to at least one one other, wedded to violence, dedicated to secrecy, and who seen the rule of regulation and good order and self-discipline as robbing them of freedom of motion, the power to make selections within the second, and as hopelessly naïve:

To them that regulation and order stuff was a helpful beard for visiting dignitaries, however not how issues actually labored. The aim of the SEALS was to do the nation’s covert soiled work. Commando teams like theirs have been created particularly to transcend what was formally sanctioned—and to do it quietly and deniably . . . The pirates didn’t see themselves as parasites within the SEAL Groups, they noticed themselves because the true SEAL Groups, the true brotherhood.

This then is the backstory of APLHA and of The Line, the story of a check that pushed some males to “the darkish facet of loyalty” and drove others to report the legal conduct of one in every of their brothers in arms. It was, within the subtitle of ALPHA, “a struggle for the soul of the Navy SEALs,” and about crossing the road that separates ethical conduct in struggle, jus in bello, from struggle crimes and atrocities. It is usually the story of a failure of command management on the platoon and unit degree and of wholly misguided makes an attempt to guard a rogue warrior and the status of the SEAL group.

This stays a narrative of Homeric proportions—the story of a warrior, a deeply flawed man, introduced down not by an enemy, however by his personal hand.

Desecration of the Useless

In September 2018, greater than a yr after Alpha returned from Iraq, Gallagher was arrested and charged underneath the Uniform Code of Navy Justice with 10 offenses—together with pre-meditated homicide, homicide, and obstruction of justice—and 14 lesser prices. The cost of obstruction of justice was primarily based on Gallagher’s alleged makes an attempt to intimidate and threaten witnesses when he was awaiting trial. After months of failed efforts to get motion on the reviews they made up their chain of command, Alpha platoon eyewitnesses lastly acquired to satisfy with Naval Legal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigators. Throughout interviews for ALPHA and The Line, these males described their confusion and frustration with the obvious cover-up. Inexplicably, not one of the males had ever thought to report on to the SEAL Group One commodore, the Naval Inspector Basic, or to make use of the NCIS hotline. These choices by no means even made it to the extent of debate in tons of of textual content messages they exchanged or within the conferences they convened to determine whether or not and tips on how to report what they’d seen in Iraq.

The costs introduced towards Gallagher and his confinement despatched a shockwave via the SEAL group and galvanized his mates, his household, and his spouse, Andrea. Interviewed for The Line, Andrea Gallagher described how she determined to make use of her advertising and marketing expertise to return to the help of her husband.  Phillips makes no secret of his antipathy for Andrea and her position within the case. He stands on the left facet of the divide in American tradition and politics—the yawning chasm that separates conservatives and liberal progressives—and his writing displays biases that taint what in any other case is persistently strong reporting. Phillips, for instance, describes Andrea as sporting “body-hugging attire” and as having “typical Fox Information attractiveness, a conservative Christian heartland worldview . . . loyalty to her husband, and a killer intuition.”

Andrea is certainly telegenic, well-spoken and outspoken, and really efficiently constructed the narrative that Phillips loathes as a “story that checked all of the packing containers” for “a conservative media world that usually peddled racially charged grievance information to a principally white, principally male, principally previous viewers.” However her web site “JusticeforEddie” quickly attracted hundreds of followers throughout the nation and on-line t-shirt gross sales, auctions, and appeals for donations introduced in tons of of hundreds of {dollars} to pay for skilled authorized counsel. Whereas Andrea labored social media, Gallagher’s brother Sean—previously a Congressional support—labored the halls of Congress. Andrea and Sean would seem on Fox Information packages greater than a dozen instances. Their marketing campaign reached not simply hundreds of thousands of Individuals throughout the political spectrum, but in addition members of Congress and later caught the eye of President Donald Trump.

In distinction to the well-plotted marketing campaign rolled out by the Gallagher household, ALPHA and The Line describe a Navy effort that was a media and public relations catastrophe—dogged by miscues, missteps, and errors. Then, simply days earlier than trial, the Navy choose within the case eliminated the lead prosecutor, Commander Chris Czaplak for skilled misconduct. Interviewed for The Line months later, Czaplak nonetheless appeared bewildered however chastened by the flip of occasions. This is without doubt one of the nice strengths of the docuseries: individuals inform the story in their very own phrases with little or no commentary save that wanted to supply context for the on-screen interviews.

Phillips additionally recounts the evidentiary challenges Navy prosecutors confronted within the Gallagher case. Initially, prosecutors had little greater than what they believed to be credible eyewitness accounts to the homicide of civilians and a captive. There was no physique to look at, no forensic proof, no homicide weapon. Helmet cam movies have been lacking and lots of deployment images on the platoon’s laptop computer had been cleaned. However the search of Gallagher’s navy base residence unearthed the cellphone he had used on deployment and a trove of textual content messages and pictures. Probably the most damning proof was a “deer trophy” photograph of ten members of Alpha lined behind a kneeling Gallagher and the corpse of an ISIS captive. Gallagher has his fingers twined within the useless man’s hair and is holding a looking knife. A caption hooked up to the photograph that was despatched to a buddy learn: “Good story behind this, acquired him with my looking knife.” The photograph seems a number of instances in episodes of The Line as does video footage of the captive from Iraqi tv.

The Line brings viewers proper into the courtroom for Gallagher’s trial. Artfully completed, the producers recreated courtroom scenes by utilizing stand-ins for the individuals and positioning the digicam to seize solely what a courtroom spectator would see from a gallery seat. Audio of the trial was tracked over courtroom scenes filmed with mushy focus and closed captioning was added; days of testimony have been edited all the way down to key moments and pivotal factors of the trial. Brilliantly executed, this episode of the collection captures the stress of the trial itself and is interwoven with interviews that additionally seize the pondering of the individuals. These interviews add insightful explanations of protection ways. The interviews with prosecution witnesses reveal their anxieties. In addition they reveal how they have been shocked by a combative protection lawyer who launched devastating cross-examinations.

Probably the most explosive testimony of the trial, nevertheless, appears virtually obscured in The Line. Underneath oath and testifying underneath each a prosecutorial and Division of Justice grant of immunity, Petty Officer First Class Corey Scott, platoon medic, stated he suffocated the prisoner and killed him. The prosecution’s key witness—who earlier claimed that he was kneeling by the wounded man to observe his important indicators and noticed Gallagher stab the captive—upended the trial. Phillips, who lined the trial for the New York Occasions, pens a critically incisive account of Scott’s testimony. In arguably the best-crafted evaluation and opinion within the e book, Phillips makes the devastating argument that protection attorneys suborned Scott’s perjurious testimony. Within the chapter, “Woodshed,” the writer of ALPHA dissects the complicated stratagem he argues protection attorneys developed to exonerate Gallagher and shield Scott. Attorneys typically name the follow “woodshedding,” that’s, taking a witness to the woodshed to rehearse false testimony.

Listening to Scott’s testimony, prosecutors have been shocked; they have been additionally defeated. The trial was over at that time, however the prosecutors continued to press the case calling extra witnesses solely to open them to extra withering cross-examination. Two days later the jury introduced a verdict that acquitted Gallagher of all prices however one—the plain offense of posing for a photograph with a useless enemy: desecration of the useless. Achilles took as his trophy the physique of Hector and desecrated the corpse by dragging it via the mud beneath the partitions of Troy. Gallagher took his trophy photograph with the physique of the ISIS fighter sprawled within the mud of a courtyard in Mosul. 

Taken collectively, ALPHA and The Line seem to exhaust almost all of the narratives that ebbed and flowed round Alpha platoon and Gallagher. These are works which might be wholly well-crafted, researched in depth, insightful, and revealing. However the entire story has not but been informed. It might be that the deep divide among the many Navy’s most elite warriors stays; some might maintain blind loyalty as a touchstone whereas others might have been steeled of their ethical resolve. To a person, the members of Alpha platoon who reported the crimes and testified stated they might do it once more.  Even so, this stays a narrative of Homeric proportions—the story of a warrior, a deeply flawed man, introduced down not by an enemy, however by his personal hand.

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