I was caught off guard when Tim Parlatore, the attorney for Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, returned my text message with a call from an out of state phone. I would have imagined it would take much more work to track down the attorney charged with defending a client in such a high-profile case, accused by his own teammates of war crimes and facing the possibility of life in prison. But what I found when I connected with the whip-smart Parlatore—himself a Navy veteran—was not the detached, calculated jargon usually prepared by attorneys for the press. Instead, what I found was an actual conversation that rapidly took on a familiar tone. Parlatore struck me as a man who understandably had things he was not able to share, but at the same time had nothing to hide. He wanted to talk about Eddie’s story.
“Ultimately,” he said, “The truth will be Eddie’s defense.”
Approaching 20 years of Naval service, Special Operations Warfare Chief Eddie is one of the SEALs who his family says never would have made it into the public eye were it not for the things that have transpired in the past year, stemming from events that are alleged to have occurred in Mosul, Iraq on a 2017 deployment. The charges against him are numerous, and two were dropped back in February, but as it currently stands the most serious allegation against him is that Gallagher used a knife to kill a dying ISIS fighter instead of rendering him medical aid. Initial eyewitness accounts varied wildly, and although the charges themselves may be clear cut, even the way in which they came about appears to be cloudy and problematic. Far from charges stemming from a single incident, they amount to the culmination of a deployment’s worth of complaints from what Parlatore characterizes as a “handful of bad apples” in an otherwise loyal platoon. As Eddie’s day in court rapidly approaches, the news on Eddie’s story seems to break and evolve by the minute. All I can do is try for a synopsis at the moment Parlatore and I connect.
“What’s next for Eddie?” I ask him.
“It will certainly be a wild trial,” he tells me. “This is one of those cases that really should never have gotten to this point. If the investigators had done their job in the beginning and really looked at this critically, it never would have gone to trial.” How did it all happen, then? Ultimately very simply, according to Parlatore; “You’ve got an investigator who made a conclusion, went out looking for evidence to support his conclusion, and only that. You have prosecutors who just bought into the story without checking that their witnesses aren’t consistent with each other. And you have an investigator who violated a whole bunch of procedures.” Parlatore’s disdain at these outcomes, perhaps due to his own history of Naval service, is palpable. “Now, they’re more interested in gamesmanship and winning than they are in justice,” he says, “And that’s troubling because it is a violation of their ethical duties.”
I want to know how all of this came to pass. Whatever the truth is, that there was discontent within the platoon is a necessary precondition of the current circumstances. The question is why and how this came to be the case. Eddie’s attorney shares a theory which has also been reiterated publicly in the past by Eddie’s wife Andrea and brother Sean.
“What you’ve got here,” says Parlatore, “Is that Eddie was the Chief of the platoon. He’s about 10 years older than the other members of the platoon; an old school warrior. And the other members of this platoon are all much younger, from a different generation of warfighters. Some of them didn’t like Eddie, they didn’t like the mission, they didn’t like what they were doing, and a lot of this came about simply because that small contingency just kept complaining until they got what they wanted.”
“I find it hard to believe that they wanted to see Eddie going to trial for murder,” I say.
“No,” agrees Parlatore, “I can’t begin to fathom that these guys ever wanted it to get to this point. If you look at the progression of their complaints, from initially complaining about tactics to complaining that Eddie took Power Bars from their care packages, what they really wanted was for him to just retire and go away. I don’t think that any of them wanted to see him looking at a mandatory minimum of life.”
It is actually pretty tragic. Parlatore’s summation is tinged with a hint of “they know not what they do” towards the accusers, though he says nothing to this effect. It’s just that he places ultimate accountability for Eddie’s current predicament on other shoulders: those of NCIS, Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
How so? “The NCIS agent lied to them,” Parlatore tells me. “I have video evidence that he lied to [Eddie’s accusers] to get them into this case. From the very beginning of the very first witness interview, the very first thing that the agent does is lie.” He can’t tell me what the lie is, but he says that it will all come out in the trial, which is set to begin May 28 and will occur on a very public, international stage.
“I have press inquiries from all over the world,” he tells me; “Germany; France. Every minute of this trial is going to be open to the public. You want to come sit in the back? It’s open. We’re limited only to the number of seats available. And they’re trying to set up CCTV to an overflow viewing room.”
I cringe and think about how many of our nation’s enemies are salivating at the thought of this delicious schadenfreude; the opportunity to witness our nation’s iconic heroes, the U.S. Navy SEALs, “the ones who got Bin Laden,” internally divided and fighting amongst themselves on a public stage. The thought of it is unbearable.
While Eddie’s accusers may have initially hoped to see Eddie take his 20 years and be out of their hair and done with the Navy, says Parlatore, he doesn’t believe that any SEAL wished for this outcome. This whole thing has snowballed, and there’s no turning back now. “I have to imagine nobody ever expected it to get to this point,” he tells me. “I imagine these witnesses have to be terrified of what’s about to happen, because they are about to get on the world stage and commit perjury. They’re stuck right now. They have basically three choices. They could refuse to show up at trial and be prosecuted for violation of an order. They can come in and commit perjury—a felony—and potentially send an innocent man to jail for the rest of his life. Or they can tell the truth.”
There is only one issue with telling the truth, though, and it’s a big one. For these accusers to get on the stand and tell the truth, they are going to be admitting that their initial accusations were false. “The problem now,” says Parlatore, “Is that if they tell the truth, they expose themselves to going to jail. They really have a horrific dilemma they have to wrestle with. Do they want to commit a felony by lying? Or do they want to come in and confess to a felony? These are the consequences that they didn’t consider when they started this.”
And—critically—he tells me, “These are consequences they never realized because the NCIS agent lied to them.”
There is one other point that Parlatore wants to make clear. We shouldn’t let this situation color our perception of all SEALs. “There are a lot of good guys out there,” he assures me. “Eddie just happened to get a platoon where there are some bad apples. There are 18 guys in the platoon and only 5 or 6 accusers. We are not talking about the entire platoon being witnesses against him.”
“Just a few bad apples?” I say.
“Exactly,” he tells me, just before his other line cuts in. It’s Eddie, calling him back for the second time that day. He has to go.
In all likelihood, Eddie Gallagher would not currently have the freedom or ability to call his legal counsel twice in one day if it were not for President Trump, who intervened on Eddie’s behalf in March, asking that he be moved to “less restrictive confinement” while awaiting trial. This move was in the wake of concerted public efforts by outspoken GOP lawmakers who sought to alert the President to the dire circumstances of Gallagher’s initial confinement, in which he was reputed to have been kept cold, hungry, and thirsty, with restricted access to family and attorneys. Earlier that month, in an attempt to draw attention to Eddie’s plight, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) wrote a letter along with 38 other Republican members of Congress to advocate for Eddie’s release from pre-trial confinement; Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a former SEAL himself, had similarly penned a letter along with 17 other lawmakers to the Secretary of the Navy, asking for reconsideration of the terms of Gallagher’s confinement.
President Trump has taken a particular interest in looking closely at cases such as Eddie’s and the plight of other servicemembers who may be facing wrongful imprisonment. In fact, according to the Washington Times, President Trump is “reviewing other cases and could soon issue more pardons to members of the military convicted of murder and other major crimes.” In this past week, Trump issued a full pardon to former Army 1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna, previously charged and convicted of “unpremeditated murder in a combat zone” following the 2007 shooting death of an Iraqi man. David Gurfein, chairman and CEO of advocacy group United American Patriots (working to provide legal support to servicemembers facing criminal accusations), reports that the White House has requested additional information from them on the cases they are covering. Gurfein told the Washington Times, “The President said, ‘How many of these situations do we have?’ And he was asking for greater perspective on the situation.” The knowledge that the President is watching gives hope to the Gallagher camp. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), an outspoken advocate on Eddie’s behalf, told San Diego’s KUSI News that if Eddie does wind up convicted, he wants President Trump to issue a pardon.
Pivotal news on Eddie’s case broke this week when helmet cam footage of the actual incident in question—in which Gallagher is alleged to have knifed to death a dying ISIS fighter—surfaced, and made the rounds in Congress. The video itself is under protective order—neither Gallagher’s own wife nor his brother, both outspoken proponents of his innocence—have seen it. It was the work of Parlatore and Gallagher’s legal team who were able to acquire the video from the prosecution and make it available to Congress for viewing.
The first to see the video was Rep. and USMC veteran Duncan Hunter (R-CA), but the first public response to its viewing came from Michael Harrison, Hunter’s spokesman. Harrison told Breitbart news, ““When other members of Congress see the video as he has seen it, that it’s going to shed light on the situation as a whole and the case that the Navy is presenting against Chief Gallagher. When Congressman Hunter saw the video, his first response was that it exonerates Chief Gallagher. But his second was that as many members of Congress that can see this need to be able to see this.”
Breitbart reports that when Parlatore described the video’s contents in court, its exculpatory nature was immediately revealed. In their summation, “According to [Parlatore’s] description in court, the roughly two-minute video shows the wounded male teenager being dragged off the hood of a Humvee by Iraqi partner forces. Chief Gallagher is then heard asking an Iraqi general about the fighter, ‘Is this ISIS?’ The general affirms he is, and Gallagher says, ‘OK, I got him.’ Gallagher then clears the crowd, gets out his medical kit, assesses the fighter’s wounds, and begins cutting the fighter’s pant leg to treat his most severe wounds.”
Rep. Hunter (R-CA) went on the record, recording a videotaped interview outside Balboa Naval Medical Center after meeting with Eddie and viewing the video. “I learned two major things today,” he says. “Number one: the Navy’s entire prosecution—their entire case—is based on leaks, lies, and half-truths. Number two: I saw the video that the Navy purports to show him doing something bad to an ISIS terrorist. It shows nothing of the sort. What it shows is Special Operations Chief Eddie Gallagher providing medical attention to an ISIS terrorist that we had tried to kill an hour earlier. Tried to save his life. That’s what it showed. Eddie Gallagher is going to be exonerated.”
Other lawmakers followed suit after viewing the footage, and shared their thoughts in a May 8 press conference. The first to speak was again Rep. Hunter (R-CA): “I wanted to give them an opportunity to see first-hand that there is no case. This is the smoking gun, and there is no gun whatsoever. That’s what we found out looking at the videos and the pictures. There was no stabbing. No one got stabbed by a knife.” Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) followed suit: “What I saw was a guy defending his country and trying to do the right thing; trying to save the life of a terrorist after an attack when the guy needed medical care. What else do we want from our service members?” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) also shared his reaction: “What I saw on the tape will vindicate Eddie Gallagher…His day in court cannot come soon enough.”
The story continues to evolve, and it is already a knock-down drag-out battle that is only set to get worse. More names are being dragged into the fray; SEAL Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch was this week reportedly warned that he, too, is being probed for the cover-up of war crimes. The move is highly significant, as Parlatore characterizes it as a move by the prosecution to “sideline a key witness.” It is symptomatic of the same legal wrangling that he says is causing all parties involved to lose sight of the key common objective: the pursuit of what really happened. “If a trial is really about a search for the truth,” Parlatore told Navy Times, “They should want Lt. Cmdr. Breisch to testify. Instead, they’re trying to make him invoke the Fifth Amendment.” Parlatore has asked Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar for an immunity deal to be extended to Breisch, but so far it has not been given.
Parlatore spoke very clearly to this effect in the Navy Times. The issue is that certain SEALs, who gave initial statements to NCIS back in 2018, have now gone silent—due in no small part to the fact that Bolivar won’t grant them transactional immunity from prosecution. The circumstances for these witnesses have, as a result, capitulated into a very high-stakes conundrum: refusal to testify against Gallagher could lead to charges of disobeying a lawful order; to repeat allegedly false testimony in court is to commit perjury; to tell the truth is to risk prosecution for the initial false statements made to NCIS. In short, says Parlatore, if the true objective of this court martial is to uncover the truth about Eddie Gallagher, “There’s no reason not to give them the requested immunity if everyone believes they’re going to give truthful testimony. Eddie Gallagher believes that his best defense is the truth, and we contend that the best way for the truth to come out is for these witnesses to testimony with no threat being held over their heads.”
That is part of the difficulty of this case. With all parties involved being members of such a secretive and nuanced profession, in which a very different code of wartime conduct prevails than in the civilian world, many lives and careers hang in the balance of what goes said or unsaid. Who will testify, what they can say versus what they will say, and who will be safe from further future prosecution; all of the above ultimately stands at best between Eddie Gallagher and exoneration and, at the very least, between Gallagher and the whole truth coming to light.
Depending on who you ask, the real villain in all of this isn’t Eddie Gallagher; it’s NCIS. To be fair, I have no sources in that camp, and I haven’t spoken to anyone on that side of the fence. Still, there is no shortage of folks who count themselves on Eddie’s team that have no problem speaking out against NCIS and the role that they have played in this high-stakes fiasco. Why would NCIS want to see Eddie’s head roll? According to Eddie’s brother Sean, who spoke to Fox News in late November, the investigators wanted nothing more than to “take down” an “elite warrior” so that they could advance their own careers.
Echoes of these allegations of careerism and power plays come from elsewhere, and from those who have closer personal experience with the interaction between NCIS and the SEAL Teams. Former SEAL Drago Dzieran, who served 20 years in the teams, has been very outspoken about Eddie’s treatment by NCIS. A native of Poland, he spent two years as a young man in a GULAG (communist prison) as punishment for his anti-communist activism. Dzieran maintains that the tactics originally used by NCIS in an attempt to break Eddie or attempt unsuccessfully to encourage him to admit to crimes that he did not commit are the same tactics utilized in Gestapo prisons. It is unclear whether or not Dzieran’s outspokenness contributed to President Trump’s recent decision to move Eddie to less restrictive confinement, but he has been speaking out on Eddie’s behalf since the get-go.
When I first met Drago Dzieran, we spoke last fall while Eddie was still in the brig. There is no love lost between Dzieran and NCIS, and he had no qualms about sharing his disgust at the tactics he said they had used against Eddie. “They did a raid on Eddie’s house,” said Drago. “They waited until the mother left and stormed the house and took the children at gunpoint in their underwear and paraded them through the neighborhood.” It is the exact opposite, Dzieran said, of all that SEALs try to do in their precise and surgical missions overseas. He recounted the example of a specific breaching charge that he had developed for use by Naval Special Warfare which basically opened the door instead of blasting it into the room. The objective was never to harm children, women, or civilians. “SEALs are self-selected and always so precise and careful. That’s why we’re so successful, too.” And this is the exact opposite from NCIS, says Dzieran, who he characterizes as reckless and lacking discretion. “If someone like me, while serving as a SEAL in a combat zone, had treated women and children the way that NCIS treated Eddie’s family, I would be in prison today.”
But this consideration was not extended to Eddie Gallagher and his family, according to Dzieran and others servicemembers and members of the veteran community who took part in the initial public outcry in Gallagher’s defense. As for NCIS? They need to be held accountable for their own practices. With the accent of his native Polish rich in his voice, Dzieran explains, “[NCIS] is poking guns at children’s heads; it cannot happen. One day one of these guys will trip and kill one of our children or wives. People who are not trained to do these type of operations with the guns, they are crossdressers wearing military costumes. They don’t understand the purpose of what they’re doing. They just feel good about it. They’re cowards. When I was in Iraq, they were sending these NCIS cowards to embed with the SEAL platoon. For what? To help with investigations? My only experience with NCIS overseas was them scared shitless, no idea what’s happening, hands in their pockets, standing behind us while we’re conducting operations. We have terrorists in front of us and these cowards behind us scared shitless.” And at home? “They think they are above the law,” says Dzieran.
“This is really going to piss people off,” I tell him.
“We have to piss off NCIS. They’re charlatans and domestic terrorists,” he says. “If they keep terrorizing our families, pull the guns on our children, they can do it to you. Anybody. I never thought this possible in America. Only in communist countries, Germany or something. And here we have a state entity terrorizing our citizens and our children, and using gestapo tactics with Eddie. The same methods that the polish KGB used on me. We have to speak about it. I would lose respect for anybody who wouldn’t speak about it.”
In short, he tells me, “NCIS is moral prostitutes. They will sell themselves to anybody just to push their career a little bit higher and a little bit farther. You can quote me on this.”
Editor’s Note: The facts are still emerging in the case of Eddie Gallagher, but this is an important case for the entire Veteran Community. We encourage you to follow the situation closely and keep yourself informed as this story develops. Follow the the Free Eddie Gallagher Facebook page by clicking here. The personal opinions quoted in this article do not necessarily represent an official position of The Havok Journal.