Rep. Duncan D. Hunter said his military unit “killed probably hundreds of civilians” in Iraq, the California Republican’s latest eyebrow-raising comments since being charged last year with spending campaign funds on personal expenses.
Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran, made the remark while renewing his call for clemency for Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL chief who is accused of killing an Islamic State prisoner under his care in 2017.
“I frankly don’t care if he was killed. I just don’t care,” Hunter said of the slain prisoner in an interview on “Zero Blog Thirty,” a military-themed podcast produced by Barstool Sports. He added, “Even if everything that the prosecutors say is true in this case, then, you know, Eddie Gallagher should still be given a break, I think.”
One of the podcast’s hosts, Kate Mannion, pushed back, arguing that “it’s such a slippery slope” and that Gallagher’s alleged killing of the prisoner “goes against our honor so egregiously.”
“Well, then, how do you judge me?” Hunter replied. “So, I was an artillery officer, and we fired hundreds of rounds into Fallujah, killed probably hundreds of civilians — if not scores, if not hundreds of civilians. Probably killed women and children, if there were any left in the city when we invaded. So do I get judged, too?”
Prosecutors say Gallagher stabbed an injured Islamic State fighter and then posed with the teenage militant’s corpse. They also accuse Gallagher of shooting unarmed civilians. Gallagher, whose trial is scheduled to begin June 10, has pleaded not guilty.
Hunter has previously defended Gallagher. He penned a USA Today opinion piece last month arguing for clemency. He also told a town hall audience that he had taken a picture of himself with a dead combatant during his military service.
Hunter and his wife, Margaret, have been charged with using more than $250,000 in campaign money to pay for family vacations, school tuition, theater tickets and other personal expenses. The two have pleaded not guilty; a trial is set for September.
The discussion about military treatment of foreign combatants has taken on an increased urgency in recent weeks after President Trump pardoned Michael Behenna, a former Army lieutenant who served five years in prison for the 2008 murder of an Iraqi citizen. Trump tweeted approvingly of Gallagher in March and is rumored to be considering clemency for him.
In the “Zero Blog Thirty” interview, Hunter also argued that the Islamic State fighter “was going to die anyway,” again prompting pushback from Mannion.
“Well, either way, it’s taking the knife to somebody who’s already wounded, which does go against our rules of war, or it’s desecrating the corpse, which also goes against it,” she said. “I just feel like we’re above that, that’s all.”
According to the Defense Department’s Law of War Manual, enemy military dead must be treated with “the same respect as would be afforded to, or expected for, friendly military dead.”
Eli Rosenberg contributed to this report.