The Democratic opponent of Rep. Duncan Hunter battered him for admitting that he posed for a photo with a slain enemy combatant while serving with the U.S. Marines in the early 2000s.
Hunter, a Republican, won re-election over Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in California’s 50th District in 2018 despite being indicted on 60 counts related to spending more than $250,000 in campaign cash for personal expenses that included vacations to Italy and Hawaii, dental work, and flying his family’s pet rabbit across the country.
In a series of news releases on Tuesday, Campa-Najjar, who is running against Hunter again in 2020, sent a statement from a Marine veteran saying he was “appalled” by Hunter’s admission and said he agreed with the late GOP Arizona Sen. John McCain in calling for a higher standard among American military personnel than among the country’s enemies.
“Through the violence, chaos and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss, we are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us,” McCain wrote in 2011 after news surfaced that al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden had been killed at his compound in Pakistan.
Hunter has publicly defended a Navy SEAL, Edward Gallagher, who has been accused of multiple war crimes while operating in the Middle East in 2017.
Gallagher has been accused of repeatedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter that was in his care and then posing for a photograph with the corpse that he sent via text message with the caption, “got him with my hunting knife.”
Gallagher has also been accused of firing on noncombatant civilians.
At a town hall in his district over the weekend, Hunter, who has publicly advocated for a pardon for Gallagher, told constituents that he, too, had posed for a photo with a killed enemy and that the practice was common while he was in a Marine in the Middle East.
“A lot of us have done the exact same thing,” Hunter said at his town hall.
Hunter also railed against the military justice system as “corrupt” and full of lawyers and bureaucratic officials who want to punish “war fighters.”
During Hunter’s 2018 campaign against Campa-Najjar, he repeatedly referred to his opponent as a “national security threat,” a line he recycled last month.
The race for Hunter’s seat became a national flashpoint last year when the Hunter campaign released an ad that used Campa-Najjar’s estranged father and grandfather to tie the challenger to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s attack at the Munich Summer Olympics in 1972. That attack happened 17 years before Campa-Najjar was born in San Diego, where he was raised in a single-parent household by his mother.
The ads were widely decried as smearing Campa-Najjar, who is Christian and has Mexican and Palestian heritage. He passed FBI background checks when he worked as an aide in the Obama administration.
Hunter defeated Campa-Najjar by 3 percentage points.