Story and photo by Ken Stone
Click to view video in which he admits to posing with dead combatants
A version of this story is reprinted with permission from Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego Online News Network; updated to add statement from Ammar Campa-Najjar, Hunter's opponent in the 50th Congressional District race, and link to the Geneva conventions for treatment of the dead.
Photo" Rep. Hunter shakes hands with his father, former Rep. Hunter, at start of Ramona forum.
May 26, 2019 (San Diego) - Rep. Duncan D. Hunter told a Ramona audience Saturday that he’s guilty of the same behavior that led to Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher being charged with war crimes — posing with a dead combatant.
“Eddie did one bad thing that I’m guilty of too — taking a picture of the body and saying something stupid,” Hunter said at a border-issues forum with his father, former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter.
The younger Hunter, a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, said he’s taken pictures “just like that when I was overseas” — although he didn’t text or post images to social media. “But a lot of my peers … have done the exact same thing.”
Hunter said the trial of Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher was set for Tuesday. But actually, it begins June 10 at Naval Base San Diego, where he faces murder charges in the slaying of a wounded teenage ISIS prisoner in Iraq in 2017.
Gallagher allegedly texted a fellow SEAL: “Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.”
Hunter said the 17-year-old fighter survived a bombing that killed 40-50 terrorists but was shot inside the leg and denied care by Iraqi army captors. He contends Gallagher tried to save the boy — as documented by helmet cam video Hunter says he's seen and shown to fellow Congress members (but not released publicly).
But the East County Republican didn’t mention testimony by Gallagher’s fellow commandos from SEAL Team 7’s Alpha Platoon. Gallagher also is accused of fatally shooting a school-age girl and an elderly man from a sniper’s roost and “indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire,” as The New York Times put it.
Hunter made the remarks after his 14-term father left the Ramona Mainstage venue early at the American Liberty Forum of Ramona to call in to a radio show. The Gallagher comments came in response to a question from event moderator Dan Summers.
“Totally different subject but very important, especially right here in San Diego,” Summers said on a stage with a Declaration of Independence backdrop and images of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. “With Memorial Day coming on Monday, what would it mean to you for President Trump to pardon Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher? What should we know about this case, and why is it so important?”
Hunter: “You want me to go through the whole thing?”
Summers: “From the beginning to the end.”
In the course of a 10-minute recitation, Hunter said he “absolutely” would love to see President Trump issue Gallagher a pardon, which some reports say could come on or before Memorial Day.
But Hunter also said he wanted the court-martial to go forward so the American people can “see how disgusting the military justice system is when it’s run by lawyers and bureaucrats [who] go after the war-fighter.”
Hunter said such a trial would embarrass the Navy and “maybe give an example of how they can change the system.”
Alluding to his own federal criminal case, where he’s charged with using campaign funds for personal spending and travel, Hunter said he would argue that “our regular justice system is just as abusive as the military justice system. It’s not about justice.”
He said it’s about: How many wins can they get?
“How famous can they get up the ladder in the military, get that next promotion?” Hunter told an audience of 150. “And in the Department of Justice here, how famous can [they] get and can they run for Congress next term if they have a big case?”
Hunter also commented on how Gallagher’s Navy prosecutors sent tracking software on email to defense attorneys to learn about possible leaks to Navy Times editor Carl Prine, a former military reporter at The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The 50th District congressman called the software “embedded malware, spyware” and declared: “Isn’t that crazy? That’s nuts. … It’s not fair when the prosecution cheats.”
He warned the mostly older audience: “If any of you get in trouble for anything, the last 20 years of your text messages are available to be used against you in a court of law. That’s how it works. They’re surveilling your emails, your text messages.
“They can now use that against you. They use it in the military. They use it in normal justice system, and they love it. So be careful what you text.”
Hunter's opponent, Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar, issued this statement: "I don’t understand why Congressman Hunter decided to use this weekend to talk about taking pictures with a combatant he killed. Tomorrow is Memorial Day, let’s respect our fallen service members without politicizing a weekend meant to honor them. Freedom does not come cheaply, it imposes a heavy burden. To the servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price to protect our lives and values, thank you. Terrorists get what they deserve, a one-way ticket to hell. But we have to be better than them in the way we conduct ourselves during war. We can’t forget what separates America from them — our moral code. Let us honor the sacrifice of our fallen men and women by exemplifying their valor, values, and virtue.”
Campa-Najjar cites Article VI of the Code of the U.S. Fight Force, which states: "I will never forget that I am an American, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free” then adds, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
The Geneva convention spells out conduct for treatment of the dead, indicating that the bodies of enemy combatants must be "respected."