Eddie Gallagher, Navy SEAL acquitted of stabbing wounded ISIS prisoner to death, tells his story

Eddie Gallagher was a decorated Navy SEAL who was called "evil" by a member of his own unit. Accused of murdering an ISIS prisoner, he was sent to the brig until the President intervened and had him released. During his trial, a witness confessed to the crime on the stand.

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The trial of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher was a riveting courtroom drama in which a decorated war fighter with four combat tours faced life in prison for crimes prosecutors said he committed on the battlefield. When President Trump used his powers as commander-in-chief to intervene,  it mushroomed into a full blown political controversy. Gallagher was acquitted of the murder charge last July, but he never took the stand and has never publicly answered questions about what happened on the day he was accused of stabbing a wounded ISIS prisoner to death. Until tonight. We warn you it's a story of combat at its ugliest and military justice at its worst.

Gallagher acknowledges that people either love him as an American hero or despise him as a war criminal. He was charged with the premeditated murder of an ISIS prisoner in Iraq.

"Did you stab that fighter?" Gallagher was asked by 60 Minutes correspondent David Martin.

"No, I did not," Gallagher said.

The ISIS fighter had been wounded in an American air strike during the battle for Mosul in 2017. Iraqi soldiers brought him to a compound they shared with the Navy SEALs. A half hour later he was dead and Gallagher posed for this photo holding his knife.

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Gallagher posing with the dead ISIS prisoner

"That's a trophy photo if I ever saw one," Martin said to Gallagher.

"Yeah, yeah that's what it was taken as," Gallagher said.

"You were trying to make it look like you killed him?" Martin asked.

"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."

It looked even worse when he sent it to a buddy with this text: "Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife." 

"That's pretty incriminating," Martin told Gallagher.

"Yeah, it is. It was like a joke text. Dark humor," Gallagher said.

"It's not often you see a photo of the accused murderer holding the alleged weapon at the throat of his victim," Martin said.

"That is true, yeah, but they ran a test on the knife, the sheath. 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 said.

When he was brought in, the fighter was barely conscious, probably suffering from internal injuries caused by the blast which struck the building he was in. Gallagher said he didn't feel sorry for him.

"That's war," Gallagher said. "He was out there trying to kill us."

Gallagher was a trained medic and if you listen closely to video captured by a fellow SEAL who was there, you can hear Gallagher say, "I got him."

Gallagher said that meant he was going to treat him. He grabbed his medical bag and started working on the prisoner none too gently.

"You know, he's an ISIS fighter I don't want his hands anywhere near me. So, I pushed him back down forcefully," Gallagher said. "He wasn't breathing properly so I performed an invasive procedure, which is a crike."

"A crike. And that's basically sticking a breathing tube in his throat?" Martin asked.

"Correct," Gallagher said.

There's no video of that because the SEAL recording the scene turned off his helmet camera, but you can clearly see the breathing tube in a photo taken after the prisoner died – along with several other medical devices implanted but by other SEALs. Over the next few hours, the team mistreated the body, buzzing it with a drone, posing for their own trophy photos, then for a group shot with Gallagher front and center. 

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Gallagher's unit, with Gallagher in the middle, posing with the dead ISIS prisoner

"But, you knew this was wrong," Martin told Gallagher.

"It's wrong. I'll say it's wrong now," Gallagher said. "And I've definitely learned-- learned my lesson.   Yeah, it's distasteful."

"Well, it's more than just bad taste. It's against the law of war. It's illegal," Martin said.

"I'm pretty sure I'm the first person ever to go to a general court martial for it--  for taking a picture," Gallagher said. "It's been done on previous deployments."

If asked, Gallagher will campaign for Trump 05:24

On a 2010 deployment to Afghanistan, Gallagher was investigated for killing a little girl when he shot a Taliban commander who was holding her. According to his commanding officer, "Gallagher was absolved of any wrongdoing." Seven years later in Iraq, some members of his platoon claimed he was taking pot shots at civilians. 

They may have looked like a band of brothers, but some of the men in Gallagher's platoon hated him. Craig Miller told investigators he was "freakin' evil." Gallagher's men complained he was needlessly exposing them to enemy fire.

Martin asked Gallagher if he was a hardass.

"I definitely  didn't take any, like, guff or anything," Gallagher said. "If they had complained or were saying, I was working them too hard, you know, I didn't really take any pity."

"Did you call 'em cowards?" Martin asked.

"I did," Gallagher said. "Told 'em they were acting like a bunch of cowards. You know, not saying it directly to my face. To me that's cowardice."

"Nobody likes to be called a coward," Martin said. "I bet you that's doubly true for a Navy SEAL."

"Oh, for sure," Gallagher said. "And that's what really I think sparked them."

Eleven months after the group posed for that photo with the dead ISIS prisoner, Corey Scott told the Naval Criminal Investigative Service - NCIS - he saw Gallagher stab that ISIS prisoner.

"Like all of a sudden Eddie's like stabbing this dude in the neck," Scott said in the interrogation video.

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Eddie Gallagher

Charged with war crimes that could send him away for life without parole, Gallagher hired Naval Academy graduate turned smashmouth lawyer, Tim Parlatore.

"If you want to put my client in jail for the rest of his life you're going to need to come through me," Parlatore said.

By the time Parlatore signed on, Gallagher was already in the brig and the full weight of the federal government had descended on his family. NCIS agents executed what they call a standard search warrant at his home when only his two sons, ages 8 and 18, were there. 

"They dragged the kids out of the house at gunpoint in their underwear," Parlatore said. "Didn't give them the opportunity to get dressed. Searched the house."

Parlatore said the agents had a valid search warrant, but the way they executed it was excessive even though it was part of a murder investigation.

"The suspect was already in custody," Parlatore said. "It was pure intimidation." 

And Parlatore said it didn't work.

"It just made Eddie mad," Parlatore said. "And more importantly, it made Andrea Gallagher mad. "

"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, Eddie's wife, said.

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Andrea and Eddie Gallagher

Mrs. Gallagher was out at meetings, promoting her website, The Better Business Babe. 

"I took my background in marketing and business and branding and I pretty much made a brand out of him," she said.

The brand was #FreeEddie and the campaign to get him out of the brig included petitions signed by members of Congress and appearances on President Trump's favorite network, FOX News. And it worked. 

After Gallagher had spent six months behind bars, the commander in chief tweeted "Navy Seal #Eddie Gallagher will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court."

"And that's when we felt like we had finally broken the barrier," Andrea Gallagher said. "The president had finally intervened."

There were reports the president would intervene again and pardon Gallagher before he ever went to trial. 

"We didn't want to be pardoned, I wanted to go to trial," Eddie Gallagher said. "If I had been pardoned, I would have had that presumption of guilt the rest of my life. "

Marc Mukasey, an attorney for the Trump Organization, joined the Gallagher defense team two months before the trial began. 

"I sent an email to the prosecution team and said, 'My name's Marc Mukasey, and I look forward to working with you guys,'" Mukasey told David Martin.

That went to the lead prosecutor, Navy commander Chris Czaplak.

"I got an email back saying 'We look forward to working with you too,'" Mukasey said. "Turns out that that email that they sent back to me had a beacon on it, a tracking device on it."

"Obviously they were looking to see who we were communicating with," Mukasey said. "In my view, it is unforgivable."

Czaplak was removed from the case and, along with two other lawyers, remains under investigation for his professional conduct. But the charges and all the evidence against Gallagher remained. 

"And this is why we have trials," Parlatore said.

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Gallagher in combat

The trial transcript runs thousands of pages but it all came down to one word spoken by Navy SEAL Corey Scott, the prosecution's star witness who testified he saw Gallagher stab the ISIS fighter and was there when the prisoner died.

"He used an interesting word," Parlatore said. "He said, 'I continued to monitor him until the terrorist asphyxiated.' And it went right over the prosecutor's head."

"The word asphyxiated means what?" Martin asked.

"It means deprived of oxygen," Parlatore said. "The prosecutor wanted to hear stopped breathing."

Parlatore rose to cross examine Scott, who was testifying under a grant of immunity. In his interview with Martin, Parlatore recalled questioning Scott.

"'You said asphyxiated, as a combat medic, you know that word means deprived of oxygen,' He said, 'Yes.' 'Why'd you use that word?' ''Cause that's how he died.'"

"And then the question is who deprived him of oxygen?" Martin asked.

"Correct," Parlatore said. "I said, 'You didn't say Eddie Gallagher suffocated him, did you?' 'No.' 'Did you?' 'Yes.'"

Protected by his immunity, Corey Scott had just confessed to the murder.

"I just can't believe that this just happened," Parlatore told Martin. "And so, as soon as I composed myself I looked back up at him and I said, 'How?'"

Scott's response is found in courtroom audio.

"After Chief Gallagher left the scene, I was left there monitoring him," Scott said. "I thought he would die. He was continuing to breathe normally, as he had been before. So I held my thumb over his ET tube until he stopped breathing."

"Did he say why he put his thumb over the breathing tube?" Martin asked.

"Yes, he did," Parlatore said. "He did it because he knew that the Iraqis were going to torture, rape, and kill this terrorist. And he just didn't wanna hear the screams anymore."

The jury deliberated for eight hours before reaching a verdict. 

"It was definitely the scariest moment of my life," Eddie Gallagher said. "I could feel my heart just, like, leaping out of my chest over and over and over."

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The Gallaghers leave court after Eddie Gallagher was acquitted of murder.

When Gallagher and his defense team burst out of the court room, the verdict was written all over their faces: not guilty of murder.

President Trump tweeted: "Congratulations to Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher... Glad I could help."

The case was closed but the fight was not over. Gallagher had been convicted of posing for the photo and demoted, until the president ordered his rank restored. Next, the Navy moved to strip him of his Trident Pin, the symbol of his elite status as a SEAL. President Trump said no way.

"Well, they wanted to take his pin away, and I said, 'No, you're not going to take it away.'  He was a great fighter," Mr. Trump said in the Oval Office during a November 25, 2019, meeting with the Bulgarian prime minister. "He was one of the ultimate fighters. Tough guy."

Gallagher kept his pin but the secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, lost his job -- abruptly fired for going behind the secretary of defense's back in an effort to stop the president from intervening. 

Now retired and living in Florida, the 40-year-old Gallagher still looks fit, but his years as a SEAL have taken their toll: two bulging discs and 18 documented concussions.

The glory wall in his garage gym tells the story of his career, including that last ill-fated deployment to Iraq. There's the motto of the platoon he led: kill 'em all.

"Kind of has a different meaning after what you were accused of," Martin said to Gallagher.

"Yeah," Gallagher said.

There's one thing not on the wall -- the knife Gallagher was accused of stabbing the prisoner with. Gallagher did get it back and he showed it to Martin. 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. 

In addition to the three  lawyers under investigation for their conduct, seven NCIS agents have either left, been reprimanded or demoted for their handling of the Gallagher case.

Produced by Mary Walsh. Associate producer, Tadd J. Lascari. Edited by Craig Crawford.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.