A Navy Seal platoon leader controversially pardoned of war crimes by US President Donald Trump was described as "toxic" and "freaking evil" by veterans who served with him in Iraq, The New York Times reported Friday.
Video testimony provided to war crimes investigators and published by the newspaper showed former members of Eddie Gallagher's elite commando unit accusing him of shooting at a 12-year-old and discussing the accusations that Gallagher targeted civilians.
"The guy is freaking evil," special operator first class Craig Miller, one of the most experienced members of Alpha Platoon's Seal Team 7, told the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).
Another platoon member, identified by the Times as special operator first class Corey Scott, said: "You could tell he was perfectly okay with killing anybody that was moving."
"The guy was toxic," special operator first class Joshua Vriens added.
Gallagher denies the allegations, dismissing them as smears by platoon members who could not match his performance.
The sniper and medic, now 40, was originally accused of premeditated murder after allegedly stabbing to death a captured, wounded 17-year-old Islamic State fighter in Iraq in May 2017.
During his 2019 trial, the case became a cause celebre in conservative media and Trump voiced support for the Seal.
The president intervened in March to have Gallagher removed from jail and placed in a Navy hospital, where he had more freedom.
In July, Gallagher was acquitted of murder by a military jury but convicted of having posed for a picture next to the body of the IS fighter.
He was demoted, and the Navy moved to remove his official Seal pin - sometimes referred to as a Trident pin - a signal Gallagher had lost the respect of the elite group.
But Mr Trump intervened again, ordering the pin and rank be restored.
"The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin," Mr Trump tweeted November 21.
His comments came as multiple US news outlets reported that then-Navy Secretary Richard Spencer had threatened to resign over the affair, a claim he denied.
"Contrary to popular belief, I am still here. I did not threaten to resign," the US Navy chief said in November, adding he did not consider Trump's tweet to be a formal order.
"I need a formal order to act," Mr Spencer told reporters.
On November 24, a Navy spokesman told AFP he could "confirm" the Navy had been notified the White House would ultimately not intervene in the process against Gallagher.
Mr Spencer was fired that same day over the Gallagher dispute.
Eventually, the NCIS began an inquiry and the platoon members were called to give evidence.
"My first reaction to seeing the videos was surprise and disgust that they would make up blatant lies about me, but I quickly realized that they were scared that the truth would come out of how cowardly they acted on deployment," Gallagher said in a statement to the Times issued by his lawyer.
Last weekend, Mr Trump hosted Gallagher and his wife at Mar-a-Lago, the president's Florida resort, where he is spending the Christmas holidays.