On Friday afternoon, September 14, 2001, I stood at what would become known as Ground Zero, with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, President George W. Bush, and New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, staring at what once was Towers One and Two of the World Trade Center complex in lower Manhattan. President Bush promised us that those responsible for the attacks on America would be held accountable.
As New York City’s Police Commissioner, and in command of the 55,000 men and women of the NYPD, I was responsible for overseeing the police department’s response, rescue, recovery, and investigation for the worst terror attack in world history. I witnessed death and destruction that would haunt most men for an eternity, and personally, I wanted those responsible to pay in the worst way.
Since then, America has witnessed our military take that fight to our new-found enemy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Africa, and other countries around the world. A substantial part of doing so came at the hands of our special operations community — like the U.S. Navy SEALS, and the U.S. Army’s Green Beret or Special Forces — considered the greatest war fighters in the world.
For me and those of us that were there on 9/11, we strongly believe that America owes them a debt of gratitude for their service, sacrifice, and courage. It is in this vein that I respectfully call on the Honorable James N. Mattis, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense, and Richard V. Spencer, Secretary of the U.S. Navy, to personally investigate the events surrounding the arrest and detention of Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SOC) Edward Gallagher.
Gallagher, a married father of three, is accused of killing an ISIS fighter in Mosul, Iraq, in 2017, who by all accounts was the sole survivor of a group of about 50 terrorists that were killed by Iraqi and U.S. forces. When found, this fighter had been shot several times and was bleeding badly from a severed artery, and had little chance of survival.
The government’s crime theory is that Gallagher stabbed the terrorist, killing him. However, reports from the Navy Times and numerous other sources have not only cast doubts as to those charges, but reek of an internal mutiny by Gallagher’s subordinates, and an overzealous prosecution that has suppressed exonerating statements, ignored exculpatory evidence, and common sense and logic.
According to those that worked for and with the highly-decorated U.S. Navy SEAL, Gallagher was the consummate professional, a stickler for detail, and a no-nonsense sailor and supervisor. Called a hard a** by many, including some of the Iraqi commanders that worked alongside him, it appears he had a small group of malcontent subordinates, that Gallagher and others felt were questionably unfit to serve in the elite unit, and that he had verbally reprimanded for not wanting to engage in combat. Over a period of months, these subordinates who have since been dubbed the “mean girls,” and “cowardly crew,” by the SEAL community, engaged in a covert whining and whispering campaign in an attempt to discredit Gallagher, and divert his focus away from them. When that attempt failed at the command level, they jumped the chain of command, and took their complaints directly to the NCIS, which ended with a list of charges that equates Gallagher to Attila the Hun, but severely contradicts dozens of his colleagues, and his 19 years of service, 14 of which were in the SEALS.
The subsequent treatment of Gallagher and his family has been so repugnant that it defies description. On the morning of his arrest, Gallagher was taken in to custody away from his home, and informed the NCIS agents that his wife was not at home and his 18 and 8-year-old sons were home alone. Their response: close to two dozen Naval investigators stormed the house in combat gear and automatic weapons, pulling the young boys out of the house in their underwear, and having them stand in the street while they searched his residence.
Then, in what was supposed to be a public hearing, dozens of colleagues, family, and friends showed up in support of Gallagher, but Navy prosecutors only allowed a few of them in the courtroom. Instead, packing the open seats with press and media, they intentionally crucified Chief Gallagher in the court of public opinion. Naval prosecutor Chris Czaplak described Gallagher as some sort of monster, claiming that "his actions are everything ISIS says we are." So much for innocent until proven guilty.
According to the Navy Times, Iraqi Emergency Response Division commander Maj. Gen. Abbas al-Jubouri was interviewed in Iraq by NCIS, and told them that Gallagher was the "best Chief" of any of the American forces he has worked with. He admitted that he was “very strict with his men… was very aggressive and hard on his men, never wanting to stop working or take a break. Chief Ed never wanted to stop and he worked all the time."
Al-Jubouri was in Mosul when the ISIS fighter that Gallagher is alleged to have killed was captured, said he was found “bleeding badly” from gunshot wounds “with little chance of survival.”
An Iraqi Col. Issa Kadhim reportedly saw SEAL medics, lead by Gallagher, attempting to save the terrorist’s life, in hopes of interrogating him, and did not see Gallagher attack the terrorist.
Both men were adamant to NCIS that Gallagher only tried to save the ISIS fighter who died of his injuries and not at the hand of Gallagher, yet this has been completely ignored because it did not fit in the prosecutor’s ‘crime theory.’
The charges and details concerning the government’s allegations just don’t add up.
Besides prosecutors suppressing substantial exculpatory statements made by witnesses, including the Iraqi commanders that were there and took possession of the body, NCIS investigators have admitted that they had to work on several discrepancies and inconsistencies in the SEAL’s statements, who we can only assume, is the cowardly crew that started this mess.
Why is Gallagher being held in a brig, pending trial? According to several sources familiar with the events, prosecutors used a statement by a neighbor who claimed he felt threatened by Gallagher to justify holding him in custody. The only problem is, that neighbor had nothing to do with the allegations, or charges.
Why haven’t the names of the witnesses against Gallagher been made public? What and why are they hiding? According to many that know the accusers, it’s only a matter of time before their conduct and motives are revealed, and this case implodes. But in the meantime, a highly-decorated combat warrior sits in a brig in San Diego, California, separated by 3,000 miles from his family who lives in Florida.
I often think about that day, standing on the rubble at Ground Zero, and where we have come since. I think about the men and women like Eddie Gallagher who have helped us fulfill President Bush’s pledge, which is why his story and his case are so disturbing to me, and so important to us, as a nation.
We owe men like him, and all who would follow his example of service, sacrifice and valor, the benefit of doubt, the presumption of innocence, and a fair trial, and that has just not happened, which is why I respectfully urge Secretary Mattis and Secretary Spencer to help right this wrong.
As New York City’s 40th Police Commissioner, Bernard Kerik was in command of the NYPD on September 11, 2001, and responsible for the city’s response, rescue, recovery, and the investigative efforts of the most substantial terror attack in world history. His 35-year career has been recognized in more than 100 awards for meritorious and heroic service, including a presidential commendation for heroism by President Ronald Reagan, two Distinguished Service Awards from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, The Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and an appointment as Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
The writer is author of the following: "The Grave Above the Grave," "From Jailer to Jailed," and "The Lost Son, A Life in Pursuit of Justice."