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Doc from the Navy seals shy away from big questions about the war


When Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher received a slap in the face of war crimes charges in 2018, the charges created a public spectacle of unforgivable, overly zealous violence that has been a major part of U.S. military intervention in Iraq since the first years of the 9/11 invasion.

What followed drew the wrong kind of attention to military operations at a time when the United States had to sell its continued involvement in Iraq. In the new Apple TV + series Line, directors Jeff Zimbalist and Doug Shultz are adapting the eponymous podcast as a four-part documentary.

In it, we hear the testimony of all who felt comfortable stepping forward to talk about what really happened in Mosul, where Gallagher led a sniper team and committed acts that shocked his comrades. Yet filmmakers ultimately fail to ask questions that really matter.

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Line review

First, a little background. In 2014, the city of Mosul in Iraq fell into the hands of the terrorist group ISIS (which has so many names and separate groups that it is probably not entirely accurate to call it the only combat force from the 2021 lens). Many of the group’s soldiers were radicalized during the invasion of Iraq. Many were held and tortured in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

So many did not lose the irony that America’s response to this was to send troops back to Iraq after a catastrophic, destabilizing first incursion. After Mosul became a stronghold for extremists who terrorize and kill their fellow Iraqis, the city became the best possible detail for members of the army eager to prove themselves.

Maybe I underestimate him. The following quotes come from Navy SEALS sent to Mosul in 2016. They called ISIS members “modern Nazis” and Mosul “the best schedule of our lives”. One compared the deployment to “going to the Super Bowl”.

These quotes come from people under Gallagher’s command. SEALs have been deployed to Iraq for several very long weeks. And when they returned, many told the same story: Gallagher looked like a psychopath.

Gallagher stabbed a captured Iraqi to death. He used his sniper rifle to catch civilians for fun. He was a drug addict and a thief. And he managed to create chaos and kill people.

Gallagher faces murder charges

The Naval Criminal Investigation Service raised Gallagher on murder charges when these accounts entered the mainstream. President Donald Trump learned this (and tweeted about it) at a time when Gallagher prosecutors were legally barred from speaking about the case in public.

Lawyer Tim Parlatore has already signed to defend Gallagher. But when Trump found out about the case, he sent Marc Mukasey to take office. (Mukasey is the son of former Attorney General George W. Bush and one of a fleet of ruthless, deranged lawyers held by Trump. He also worked for Rudy Giuliani).

The legal team made minced meat from nervous SEALs who, one by one, stood in line to share their terror over working under Gallagher. This will never be a big victory.

‘I sleep well at night’

“We’re trained to kill bad guys … but some guys just want to go and do it for the wrong reasons.” These are among the first words spoken Line. And it’s pretty much a proclamation that sets the pace.

A man who says he is in the dark, his voice has been electronically altered to make his identity a secret. It is the first clue that Gallagher was not rebuked as his men had hoped and that they continued to live in fear of retaliation. It’s also a hint of a better documentary this could have been.

The directors of the documentaries are Jeff Zimbalist (Two Escobars,, 30 for 30) and Doug Shultz (Pandemic: How to prevent an outbreak). They are both workhorses. However, none seems to be equipped with the necessary skill or empathy needed to tell this story in a non-sensational way.

It was produced by Alex Gibney, a man known for issuing an undercooked document every few months Line, and this unfortunately proves to be quite convincing. The Apple TV + series followed a successful eponymous podcast covering the same events. And it seems that this was a job more than a thorough or precisely composed investigation.

Medium documentary

The documentary’s approach to investigating war crimes in Iraq has proved insane.
Photo: Apple TV +

The series uses a bag of documentary techniques. We see Errol Morris-style recreation, an archive video taken from SEAL cameras and online news, lots unnecessary establishment shots, head-to-head interviews, drone shots wherever the story goes – just what the filmmakers are thinking about at the moment.

It’s not striking, but the story is told in a captivating enough way to excite you for the next chapter. That, unfortunately, is also part of the problem. The final act of the series contains two twists – one about the possible identity of the man Gallagher is accused of cold-blooded murder, and the other about Gallagher’s guilt – that don’t go as well as the revelations in the last act.

Free crafts made for TV

The show ought they approached Gallagher’s final revelation as factual from the jump to set the trial as a travesty. But unfortunately, Line he inserts it at the end like pulling a rug. That’s rude. Producers know it makes good television, and honestly, a story so grotesque and sad shouldn’t just be good television.

Line it makes very little sense for someone to really tackle the issues at stake. Look at the SEALs who served with Gallagher for some indications of the unsupported nature of their complaints. As they reflect on the time spent in Mosul, their memories are distinctly unusual of the things they witnessed that have nothing to do with Gallagher’s particular cruelty.

“We would literally watch dozens of Iraqis die every day,” says one. “It was a turkey shoot, it was great,” says another. “This was the sexiest thing you could do” and so on. However, filmmakers do not raise that issue. And the individual bloodthirstiness and neutrality of SEALs (or enthusiasm in some cases) about killing people for miles just hangs there, unprovoked.

When Gallagher finally works he confessed to killing an Iraqi prisoner (he really tortured him for a few minutes, to show his SEAL colleagues medical techniques), looks directly at the camera and says, “I sleep well at night.”

A real conflict

In second place in the series, Richard V. Spencer (no, no to Richard Spencer), a naval minister under Trump, says Gallagher’s behavior “violates everything the Special Warfare community stands for.” Which is simply one of the most annoying unconscious things anyone has ever said. (Trump fired Spencer in 2019, in part because of the aftermath of Gallagher’s trial, Line implies.)

The job of Gallagher’s SEAL team was to kill people. The problem is that Gallagher enjoyed it. You shouldn’t enjoy it. The question remains as to how the Navy plans to effectively monitor these matters. And it seems that filmmakers, incredibly, more or less do not care about the implications.

They seem perfectly content to collect these memories and testimonies and let you work. Which would be fine, except they let Gallagher lie to them during the whole interviews. And they obviously don’t feel remorse for going back and questioning what happened except that they finally made him say it, because it never bothered him.

Not murder, not lying about it, not the fact that he asked his friend to perjury on his behalf at trial to take the blame for the murder and he did it and later admitted it. None of this affected the shells around their sense of duty and morality. Not exactly a victory!

So many missed opportunities

In addition, the filmmakers do not dispute any claim here. I mean, when one of the SEAL operators offers this melodramatic line – “I didn’t know it wasn’t the end of the fight. The real conflict has just begun. ” – they just use it as a cliffhanger. They then do not ask why, after killing hundreds of Iraqis, the innocence or guilt of one man is in some ways a greater challenge of decency and a heavier shovel.

And then this particular operator, whose name is Gio, describes how he went to visit Gallagher in prison and testified on his behalf at trial. That’s not what I’d call a “real conflict,” to be honest. He implies that this is because the resulting trial has tarnished the image of the U.S. Navy. But in fact, it all means that now people know what, unfortunately, was given to people like Gallagher: you can kill with impunity when you go to a foreign country with an American flag.

Gallagher plays the game

Gallagher knew that inside, too Line, he proves it. Acquitted of six of the seven charges he faced in military court, he did not serve his sentence after a period he spent waiting for trial. He wrote a book – The man in the arena: from the fight against ISIS to the fight for my freedom – and now he can lie to journalists.

He, for example, behaves unbelievably when his friend, a doctor from the unit, admits that he killed an Iraqi prisoner in order to get Gallagher out of prison. Gallagher is still upset that the man stated that he stabbed the prisoner, even if the medic doesn’t say it killed him.

“Why did he say I stabbed him?” Gallagher asks. “Why both?”

The idea that the filmmakers caught him in this lie and did not ask him about it is extremely careless. They are as afraid as the people who hid in the shadows to give their testimony.

Failure to ask important questions

Again, it is fascinating to see how many of these guys are trying – and failing – to cope with the ideological and ethical implications of such a naval trial. Every few minutes Line, some absurd claim remains unexplored. Like the idea that Gallagher and his wife are supported by people like Trump and Bernard Kerrick. (Kerik is another Giuliani associate who, as NYPD commissioner, led the New York police force as a private army. He later faced an investigation into massive corruption before going to prison for several years).

How do you maintain your innocence when the people rushing to your defense are gloriously corrupt? One of Gallagher’s men says he felt betrayed when Trump sided with Gallagher.

Again, that would be the right time for filmmakers to ask him what he expects. Line had the opportunity to explore what it really means to serve your country these days. And the show left each of them insanely intact.

Look Line on Apple TV +

Line premiered Nov. 19 on Apple TV +.

Rated: TV-MA

Look at: Apple TV +

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of a long-running series of video essays The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He wrote for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books i Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.





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