SEALs get immunity in trial at Naval Base San Diego
New details in the case against a Navy SEAL charged with multiple war crimes emerged during a marathon hearing last week at Naval Base San Diego.
Friday’s hearing revealed that seven Navy SEALs have been granted immunity to testify for the prosecution during the upcoming trial of Edward R. Gallagher, a chief special warfare operator alleged to have murdered a wounded teenage Islamic State combatant by stabbing him in the neck.
The trial phase is scheduled for Feb. 19. Prosecutors expect to call the seven SEALs and up to 13 additional witnesses of the May 2017 slaying in Mosul, Iraq. Defense attorneys asked the judge, Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh, to suppress some aspects of those witnesses’ expected testimony, particularly the numbers of people Gallagher allegedly bragged about killing.
Witnesses told investigators that Gallagher boasted of killing up to 200 people during the 2017 deployment. Another witness said Gallagher told him he killed “three a day” and to “do the math” for the total number he killed.
The defense argued that these figures would prejudice a jury panel. The judge denied the motion. Defense attorneys also asked that evidence seized from three of Gallagher’s cellphones be suppressed. All evidence in the case is under a protective order, but photos, videos and text messages are part of the government’s case against the SEAL.
Gallagher took the stand and testified that when he was arrested on Sept. 11, he was not allowed to call his attorney. Naval Criminal Investigative Service interrogators asked him to use his fingerprints to unlock his phone, he said, and investigators watched Gallagher enter his pass code, which they used to unlock his other devices.
The judge had not ruled on that motion as of late Friday evening. Prosecutors also revealed they have a knife recovered from Naval Special Warfare Group 1 in Coronado and that it tested positive for DNA. They did not say whose DNA or that it was the murder weapon, though it was undergoing further testing.
More details about the battle that precipitated that alleged murder also came to light.
Prosecutors said the incident began May 3, 2017, with a drone strike and two Hellfire missiles hitting two sides of a home in Mosul. Witness statements conflict about whether the injured Islamic State fighter was inside the home when it was struck. The prosecution says he was, but the defense said their witnesses say he was injured by gunfire, not the drone strike. Both sides agree that Iraqi forces loaded the combatant onto the hood of a Humvee and delivered him to Gallagher’s team. Gallagher, a medic, began treating him.