The court-martial of Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher began on Friday at Naval Base San Diego. According to numerous media reports and word from his family, Gallagher will plead not guilty to numerous war crimes charges, including indiscriminate fire into civilian crowds and using a knife to kill a captured teenage Islamic State fighter.
Gallagher’s brother Sean told Fox News that Edward looks forward to responding to the charges in court.
“Today’s arraignment is the first time in four months since he was arrested on 9/11 that he will have the ability to refute the false claims made about him in front of a judge,” Sean Gallagher said.
“He’s missed Christmas. He’s missed Thanksgiving. He has a wife and three children that he loves deeply and that miss him sorely. We’re asking for the Navy to see the error of their ways and right the wrong that has been perpetrated against a decorated war hero,” Sean said.
Edward Gallagher’s lawyer Phil Stackhouse said he would request release from confinement in the Naval Consolidated Brig in San Diego while the court-martial proceeds. He was arrested on September 11 at Camp Pendleton while receiving treatment for a traumatic brain injury. He could face life in prison if convicted.
Gallagher is a 19-year veteran whose decorations include two Bronze Stars and a Meritorious Unit Commendation. The allegations against him contend, as NPR put it on Friday, that he “snapped” while serving in Mosul, Iraq, in 2017. The most dramatic charge against him was summarized in the report as follows:
After Iraqis called in an airstrike on a building, they captured a wounded ISIS fighter who was about 15 years old, Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Joe Warpinski told the court, according to the military trade publication Task & Purpose. The Iraqis turned the fighter over to the Navy SEALs, and medics began treating him for shrapnel in his left leg and difficulty breathing.
While one SEAL medic was treating the teen, Navy investigators say Gallagher walked up without saying a word, took out a handmade knife, and stabbed the teen several times in the head and neck, the medic told military investigators, according to The New York Times. Afterward, Gallagher posed for photos next to the body, prosecutors said.
Gallagher then completed his re-enlistment ceremony next to the body, prosecutors allege. Later, Gallagher allegedly texted one of the photos to a fellow SEAL, along with the text: “I got him with my hunting knife.”
Prosecutors say there were three eyewitnesses, according to Task & Purpose. Gallagher’s attorney told the court the teen died from injuries from the airstrike, despite Gallagher’s attempt to save him, the AP reported.
Gallagher has also been accused of killing civilians by firing into crowds, including an elderly man and a young girl in Mosul.
The Associated Press noted it was unusual for so many members of the close-knit Navy SEALs to level such damaging allegations against one of their own. So alarmed were the other SEALs that, according to NCIS, they fired warning shots to clear civilians out of his path and allowed him to use a rifle with an inaccurate scope so he would miss more of his targets.
Charges are also pending against Gallagher’s platoon commander, Lt. Jacob Portier, for not responding to reports of Gallagher’s behavior. Prosecutors alleged Gallagher made efforts to intimidate other SEALs out of reporting him.
Gallagher’s attorney Phil Stackhouse has said the SEALs who accused Gallagher of war crimes conspired to rid themselves of a demanding leader with high standards. In November, he promised to “call many more SEALs who will say none of this ever happened,” and in December he publicly invited President Donald Trump to review the case.
Stackhouse has questioned some details of the testimony against Gallagher, including what he described as inconsistencies in their accounts and the absurdity of claiming an experienced marksman like Gallagher – the “most experienced sniper in the platoon” and one of only a few Navy medics to qualify as a Marine scout sniper – would not notice the settings on his rifle were off. Gallagher’s accusers have suggested his unquestionably formidable rifle skills deteriorated under the stress of his eighth deployment.
As Task & Purpose recounted, Stackhouse had some pointed questions about the photos of Gallagher posing with the dead teenage ISIS fighter, described as coming from Gallagher’s phone but were introduced as evidence under seal and only described verbally by NCIS Special Agent Joe Warpinski:
In one, the SEAL Chief held up the dead fighter’s head, still attached to the body, with one hand while holding his knife in the other. The second showed a similar pose but zoomed out, with two other SEALs in the background. The third showed Gallagher holding the fighter’s head by his hair, which Warpinski said was apparently right after the reenlistment ceremony.
During cross-examination, Gallagher’s civilian defense attorney Philip Stackhouse seemed to imply that other SEALs had engaged in similar behavior and posed with bodies: “Did you ask whether every person took a picture with that ISIS fighter that day?” he asked (Warpinski said no). Stackhouse also asked why NCIS did not seize the entire SEAL platoon’s phones for evidence.
“You took them at their word?” Stackhouse asked of Warpinski’s questioning of witnesses, to which he, for the most part, agreed, adding that “it seemed like all their statements were consistent and true.”
The New York Times quoted Gallagher’s wife Andrea responding to the charges in November: “This is not who Eddie is. He is a lifesaver. He is that guy who runs into the burning building when other people are running out.”