Former Military Attorney Calls Hunter’s Comments ‘Outrageous’
Bob Muth, a former Marine and current law professor at the University of San Diego, said recent comments made by Congressman Duncan Hunter about him and a lot of his military peers posing with dead bodies while in combat are not true. And they set a dangerous precedent for the United States military.
“The Congressman’s saying lots of his peers did it, I don’t think that’s true,” Muth said. “I think he’s just trying to minimize what’s taken place.”
Hunter’s comments are in defense of Edward Gallagher. The Navy SEAL has been accused of posing for photos with dead enemy combatants. He’s also accused of killing an injured Islamic State fighter in custody and shooting indiscriminately at Iraqi civilians.
Gallagher is facing trial in San Diego for the commission of war crimes. He has pleaded not guilty.
Also in defense of Gallagher, Hunter said he probably killed “hundreds of civilians” while serving as an artillery officer in Fallujah.
Muth, who served as a judge advocate in the Marine Corps, said as an elected official and a former officer in the Marine Corps, Hunter is setting a dangerous precedent with his comments.
“When you have an officer coming out and saying I disregarded the rules of war, I don’t think they apply to me...I think that’s a very dangerous precedent to set,” he said. “Because then you’re going to have young, junior service members out there saying the rules don’t matter, here’s an officer saying they don’t matter to him, I can do what I want.”
In a statement, Capt. Joseph Butterfield with the Marine Corps said they are aware of Hunter’s comments but it is too early to speculate on any future actions.
"Marines are required to comply with the law of war during all military operations, however characterized,” the statement said. “If mistreatment of the dead were committed intentionally, it could be considered a violation of the law of war. U.S. service members have been charged and punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for posing for pictures with human casualties. Generally, the statute of limitations under the UCMJ is five years.”
Muth explained posing with a dead body for a photo is not automatically a crime. The military looks at the context the photo was taken.
“Depending upon what the picture shows and the context that surrounds the nature of when this picture was taken, where it was distributed, that would be pretty critical to understanding whether or not it would be a war crime,” he said.
Muth said the statute of limitations would make it unlikely the Congressman would be charged with a crime. Also, the military would not have any jurisdiction over Hunter since he is now a civilian.
KPBS requested an interview with Hunter but he has not made himself available.
According to a statement from his office, “Congressman Hunter was simply trying to make a point in the Gallagher case is that almost everyone has a camera now on the battlefield. A lot of pictures are taken, some have pictures with the enemy involved, some do not. The larger context here is that the case against Gallagher is weak and the Navy prosecution has conducted itself shamefully throughout the process.”
He and his wife, Margaret, were indicted in 2017 on federal charges of illegally using more than $250,000 in campaign contributions for personal living expenses. Both have pleaded not guilty and have their next court hearing scheduled for July 29. The trial is set for later this year.