On Tuesday, July 12, a military jury acquitted a decorated Navy SEAL of premeditated murder Tuesday in the killing of a wounded Islamic State captive under his care in Iraq in 2017.
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher was cleared of all charges except for posing for photos with the dead body of the captive. Gallagher reacted with “tears of joy, emotion, freedom and absolute euphoria,” defense lawyer Marc Mukasey said.
“Suffice it to say this is a huge victory,” Mukasey said outside court. “It’s a huge weight off the Gallaghers.”
The Defense held that Gallagher was framed by disgruntled platoon members who fabricated the allegations to oust their chief. They said there was no physical evidence to support the allegations.
The prosecution said Gallagher’s own text messages and photos incriminated him. They included photos of Gallagher holding the dead militant up by the hair and clutching a knife in his other hand.
A text message Gallagher sent while deployed said: “got him with my hunting knife.”
The prosecution asserted the proof of Gallagher’s guilt was in those words, which were his own, and his photos and the testimony of his fellow troops.
The defense lawyers on the other hand, called the case a “mutiny” by entitled, junior SEALs who were trying to oust a demanding chief and repeatedly told the jury that there was nobody, no forensic evidence, and no blood found on the knife.
A Rare Public Glimpse at Military Justice
The case gave a rare public view of a deep division in the insular and highly revered SEAL community. Both sides told jurors that witnesses had lied on the stand and it was their duty to push through the evidence to find the truth. Gallagher, 40, did not take the stand.
The panel of seven (as opposed to a traditional 12 member civilian jury) of five Marines and two sailors, including a SEAL, had to weigh whether Gallagher, a 19-year veteran on his eighth deployment, went off the rails and fatally stabbed the war prisoner on May 3, 2017, as a kind of trophy kill, or was the victim of allegations fabricated after the platoon returned to San Diego to stop him from getting a Silver Star and being promoted.
Under the military system, two-thirds of the tribunal panel needs to agree to convict, or in this case five of seven jurors or they must acquit. Military juries also have the option to convict on lesser charges, such as attempted murder.
More Details of the Case Against Gallagher
Gallagher had also been charged with attempted murder in the shootings of two Iraqi civilians, and four other charges that included the unlawful discharge of his firearm by shooting at noncombatants, wrongfully posing with a human casualty, impeding an investigation by discouraging platoon members from reporting his criminal actions and retaliating against those who did.
The two-week trial included the testimonies of nearly a dozen SEALs, including Special Operator Corey Scott, a medic like Gallagher, who told the court that he saw the chief stab the Islamic State militant in the neck but stunned the court when he said he was the one who ultimately killed the prisoner by plugging his breathing tube with his thumb as an act of mercy.
An Iraqi general who handed the wounded prisoner to the SEALs testified that Gallagher did not stab the boy. And Marine Staff Sgt. Giorgio Kirylo said after the militant died that he moved the body to take a “cool guy trophy” photo with it and saw no stab wounds on his neck.
All of this conflicting testimony was enough to cast sufficient doubt among the empaneled jury to not reach the 2/3rd majority required for conviction.
After hearing that most of the charges against Gallagher were dropped, President Trump tweeted he was “glad” to help. “Congratulations to Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, his wonderful wife Andrea, and his entire family,” the president tweeted after hearing of the acquittal. “You have been through much together. Glad I could help!”