Eddie Gallagher is finding himself playing some unexpected roles.
He thought he had realized a lifelong dream when he was invited to join the elite Navy SEALS. He was deployed eight times and operated in conflict zones in Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
But life took some strange turns after a fateful deployment to Iraq in 2017. The former SEAL said in an interview that he never expected to wind up as the defendant in a court-martial accused of horrendous war crimes, much less the central figure in a case that would severely strain relations between President Trump and his top military advisers.
Retired Chief Petty Officer Gallagher now is taking on another unanticipated role: as an author of a book telling his side of a deeply polarizing story.
Chief Gallagher was found not guilty of murder in the 2017 death of an Islamic State fighter in Iraq after some members of his own SEAL platoon accused him, but the nature of the case and Mr. Trump’s intense interest quickly made him a public figure.
“I’ve always lived my career not telling anybody what I did. I’m not an extrovert,” Chief Gallagher told The Washington Times. “I just like to do my thing and keep to myself.”
He said he wrote “The Man in the Arena: From Fighting ISIS to Fighting for My Freedom,” to counter what he described as a regular pattern of misinformation from the media about the trial and the aftermath. The book is an unapologetic defense of his actions, mixed with complaints about how others have told his story.
“I was pretty much demonized by some of the media,” Chief Gallagher said. “I could either slink away and try to restart some form of life or actually tell the truth about what happened.”
He also wanted to tell what his wife and co-author, Andrea Gallagher, did to help keep the case in the public eye and solicit support from some lawmakers in Washington.
“I wanted to put everything out there and be as transparent as possible,” he said.
He was arrested on Sept. 11, 2018, while being treated in San Diego for nearly 20 years’ worth of traumatic brain injuries he sustained during combat tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. Chief Gallagher was taken to a military brig and held in solitary confinement. He spent more than eight months behind bars and was largely denied medical treatment and access to his attorneys.
“They had locked me up, and they never gave any reason why,” he said. “In my head, I was like, ‘Somebody is going to see this and see it is a mistake. There’s going to be an adult in the room.’ Unfortunately, it just kept escalating and got very political.’”
After Chief Gallagher spent two months in the brig, his wife told him that no white knight would suddenly arrive to save the day. It was almost surreal to have the full weight of the U.S. Navy suddenly turn on him, he recalled.
“It was disappointing to know that we have leaders who were willing to throw the people working for them away for life — to make a political point,” he said.
Chief Gallagher maintains that the case against him was based solely on testimony from disgruntled members of his SEAL platoon who didn’t like his exacting and aggressive style of command. Most were junior members of the special operations community with little to no combat experience under their belts, he said.
Chief Gallagher’s attorney, Tim Parlatore, said in his opening statement that the case was about mutiny rather than murder.
“These guys were not prepared for that deployment mentally,” Chief Gallagher said. “They were a bunch of whiners.”
While he was behind bars, his wife and brother enlisted 50 members of Congress to sign a petition for his release from the brig so he could take part in his legal defense. Mr. Trump ordered Navy officials to make that happen.
“If [President Trump] had not stepped in and let me out to defend myself, who knows how the trial would have gone?” Chief Gallagher said.
Although he remains grateful to Mr. Trump, Chief Gallagher said, the support from the White House turned into a double-edged sword.
“Because of the hatred that half this country has for him, it was, ‘F—- that guy because Trump backed him,’” he said. “But it was huge what he did. I think it was the factor why our trial went the way it did.”
Chief Gallagher was acquitted of the murder charge but convicted of a lesser offense for taking a picture with the corpse of the Islamic State fighter.
“Yes, I did that. I will take ownership of that,” Chief Gallagher said. “They knew it was a BS charge. Because they lost on the other [charge], they went full force on me.”
He said many in the media continued to portray him as a monster despite the acquittal for murder.
Chief Gallagher was sentenced to four months of time served, but top Navy officials wanted to lower his rank and take away his coveted SEAL trident pin. Mr. Trump stepped in again, allowing him to keep the insignia and retire as a chief petty officer.
“I became a political football being thrown back and forth between the Navy and the president,” Chief Gallagher said. “They refused to back down. They literally were battling the president of the United States.”
Chief Gallagher said the captured ISIS fighter was badly injured and was the only survivor out of almost 50 enemy combatants after a pair of Hellfire missiles were dropped on their position. He contends in the book that a medical evacuation was out of the question because the scene was too risky for helicopters.
He said Iraqi soldiers would have decapitated the ISIS fighter if the Americans turned him over to them. The SEAL platoon tried to treat the prisoner on their own until he succumbed to his wounds, Chief Gallagher said.
The procedures weren’t intended to hasten his death and likely kept him alive for a few minutes longer than he would have lasted otherwise, Chief Gallagher said.
“Everybody knew what was going on. We’ll just treat him until he dies,” he said. “We weren’t going to fly American helicopters in there to get shot down.”
The prosecutors were aware that the troops performed medical procedures on the ISIS fighter, but Chief Gallagher said they declined to make it part of their case because it wouldn’t square with the allegations that the defendant fatally stabbed him.
“That’s why I wrote this book,” he said in a statement. “The media continually twists sound bites to fit their agenda. The book will be the first opportunity for the public to hear the full and true story of what really happened.”