The elite, counterterrorism-focused SEALs gained international fame when they rescued Capt. Richard Phillips from a pirate hijacking in 2009 and killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. Scores of movies and books — some of them written by SEALs themselves — recount their clandestine, often violent missions, turning the group’s members into national celebrities and pop culture icons.
Author: Alex Ward / VOX
But that sterling reputation has taken several blows recently. Two members of SEAL Team 6 — the group that killed bin Laden — were implicated in the June 2017 murder of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar along with two other Marine special operators.
Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Gallagher, a SEAL from the same team as those disgracefully returning from Iraq, recently faced a court-martial for committing war crimes — including murder.
And earlier this week, the independent Navy Times reported that six members of SEAL Team 10 tested positive last year for cocaine use and other drugs while serving. What’s more, they found ways to cheat drug tests, such as swapping out tainted urine samples for clean ones, on the rare occasions they actually had to go through a test.
“I never once got piss-tested on deployment or on the road, where I was using most often,” one caught SEAL told the Navy Times.
He was cleared of most charges, but he was found guilty for posing next to an enemy’s dead body. He wasn’t alone; other SEALs joined him in those photos. Making matters worse, it was revealed that members of his unit had also been drinking alcohol on the battlefield.
There’s more — including the conviction of a SEAL in early 2018 for recording images of child abuse on his phone — but you get the idea.
These instances have raised concerns that there’s a systemic behavioral problem inside the SEAL community. “Something seems off,” Corn told me. He and others want Congress to hold hearings on this issue and ask commanders what, specifically, they’re doing to end the problems.
But many officials and experts say there’s no deeper problem and that these cases are merely outliers. They note that hundreds of SEALs do their jobs professionally and ably despite the Pentagon constantly calling on them to serve in the world’s most treacherous places.
“We do not have a systemic problem,” Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Smith told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday, just hours before the announcement about the returning SEALs came out. “We have a pretty large population of Navy special warfare [operators] and overwhelmingly the vast majority — 99.8 percent — are at the top of the line.
“Do we have an issue? No, we have challenges, we have fraying, but are these things systemic? No, after a hard look,” he continued. ”Is there room for improvement? Is any one ethical breach too much? Yes.”