“60 Minutes” took on the controversial story of the former Navy SEAL accused of war crimes — including murdering a teen ISIS fighter — and it got pretty surreal.
After a key witness in Eddie Gallagher’s case changed his testimony to say that he (not Gallagher) killed the teenager in Iraq by asphyxiation, Gallagher was acquitted of murder in July but was convicted of wrongfully posing with the teen’s dead body. In November, however, he was granted clemency by President Donald Trump in a controversy that resulted in the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who opposed Trump’s involvement.
In the interview aired Sunday night, Gallagher, who’s retired and living in Florida, showed little remorse for his actions and denied that he killed the ISIS fighter. "I'm pretty sure I'm the first person ever to go to a general court-martial for it, for taking a picture,” Gallagher told "60 Minutes". “It's been done on previous deployments."
That wasn’t all, however. Over the course of the interview, Gallagher expressed his admiration for Trump and even said he’d campaign for him in the election if asked, and, in one particularly surreal scene, showed "60 Minutes" his “war memorabilia,” including the knife he originally said was used to kill the ISIS prisoner.
Gallagher says text saying he stabbed prisoner was a “joke text”
During the interview, Gallagher maintained that a photo taken of him with the dead prisoner — sent to a friend via text with the caption “Good story behind this one. Got him with my hunting knife” — was simply a joke that was never meant to see the light of day.
“It was like a joke text,” Gallagher said. “Dark humor.”
"It's not often you see a photo of the accused murderer holding the alleged weapon at the throat of his victim," correspondent David Martin said.
“That is true, yeah, but they ran a test on the knife, the sheath,” Gallagher responded. “No blood anywhere on it. And if you look at the picture close, there's no blood on the knife. There's no blood anywhere on me.”
Gallagher's wife made him into a “brand”
Much of the credit for Gallagher’s clemency goes to his wife, Andrea Gallagher, who ran the campaign to get him out of military prison with petitions, Fox News appearances, and “#FreeEddie” stickers.
"I took my background in marketing and business and branding and I pretty much made a brand out of him," she told CBS. It worked: In March 2019, Trump announced via Twitter that Gallagher would be moved to “less restrictive confinement” as a result of his “past service to our country.”
Part of what spurred her to action, she said, was the way the search warrant of her house was executed by NCIS agents. ("They dragged the kids out of the house at gunpoint in their underwear," Gallagher’s lawyer Tim Parlatore said.)
"They came out with assault rifles fully kitted up like they're going to war to, I guess, assault a house with two kids in it," Andrea Gallagher said.
Gallagher's “glory wall”
One particularly bewildering part of the segment found Martin and Gallagher in the retired SEAL’s home gym, which doubles as a showcase room for his war memorabilia. Hanging on the wall is the “motto” of his platoon, which is: “Kill ‘em all.”
“Kinda has a different meaning after what you were accused of,” Martin said. “Yeah,” Gallagher said.
Then Martin asked Gallagher if he got the knife at the center of the trial back, and when he said yes, Martin asked why it wasn’t on the wall. “It’s actually right there,” Gallagher said, pointing to a bar cart.
“No blood was ever found on the knife, although it has become tarnished over time, much like the reputations of so many involved in this case,” Martin said dramatically in an overdub.
He's ready to return Trump's favor
Gallagher said he was ready to return Trump’s favor by helping him out on the campaign trail this year.
"I have not been personally asked to campaign for his reelection from him," Gallagher said. "But if he asks me, if he wants me to help out in any way, yes, I would."
“He helped save my life,” Gallagher added.
Not everyone sees it that way.
“This was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low-level review,” Spencer wrote of Trump’s involvement in restoring Gallagher’s final rank to chief petty officer, in a November op-ed for the Washington Post, days after he was fired. “It was also a reminder that the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how the witness in Gallagher's case changed his testimony.
Cover: Screen shot from "60 Minutes" March 1, 2020, episode