Former SEAL Eddie Gallagher sues new Navy secretary, NY Times reporter
By ANDREW DYER | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: June 2, 2020
SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — A retired Navy SEAL acquitted of murder in a closely watched war crimes trial in San Diego last year is suing a New York Times reporter and the Navy secretary, alleging the service leaked documents to smear the SEAL ahead of his trial.
Eddie Gallagher, then a chief special warfare operator, was accused of several war crimes by some of his platoon subordinates, including that he shot civilians and stabbed a wounded Islamic State fighter in the neck, killing him, while in Iraq in 2017. Gallagher pleaded not guilty and was acquitted of most charges, but he was convicted of posing for a photo with an ISIS fighter’s corpse, a crime for which the jury reduced his rank.
The case and its fallout received national media coverage. Conservative hosts on Fox News lobbied President Donald Trump for months to intervene on Gallagher’s behalf. Trump restored Gallagher’s rank.
New York Times reporter Dave Philipps covered the story, often citing leaked documents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation.
Gallagher’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Diego, alleges Philipps made several false claims in his coverage in the paper and on an episode of “The Weekly,” a Times news magazine show on FX.
The complaint says Gallagher is not suing The New York Times, saying the reporter may not have been truthful with his editors. Nevertheless, the newspaper is providing his defense.
Gallagher claims Philipps’ reporting defamed him and caused emotional distress.
“As problems with the case against Chief Gallagher began to surface, members of the Department of the Navy had the opportunity to end this defective prosecution, but instead chose to corruptly attempt to tip the scales of justice in their favor through an unlawful campaign of leaking Privacy Act protected documents to falsely guide the public narrative (and therefore taint the jury pool),” the complaint says.
Philipps declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday but provided a statement from the Times.
“Mr. Gallagher’s complaint is long on conspiracy theory and very short on facts about what actually happened in Iraq,” said Ari Isaacman Bevacqua, a Times spokeswoman, in the statement. “Dave Philipps did what any good journalist should: he accurately reported on a criminal trial, including testimony that implicated Mr. Gallagher in the death of a man. Nowhere in a 40-page complaint does Mr. Gallagher deny his role in the killing.”
Timothy Parlatore, one of Gallagher’s attorneys, told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Monday that the lawsuit is not about what happened in Iraq.
“This lawsuit is not to re-litigate what happened in Iraq but to hold Dave Philipps accountable,” Parlatore said by phone.
As for the Navy’s role, there would be no lawsuit if the military had held its own people accountable for misconduct, Parlatore said.
The suit was filed Friday, hours after Kenneth Braithwaite was sworn in as Navy secretary.
A Navy spokesman declined to comment Monday, citing the pending litigation.