Was Dead Militant a War Casualty or Murder Victim? Court-Martial for US Navy SEAL Will Determine

Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder.

What to Know

  • Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Gallagher is accused of premeditated murder after a stabbing in Mosul, Iraq in May 2017
  • Gallagher has served 19 years in the US Navy and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal twice
  • Prosecutors have said Gallagher tried to bribe fellow SEALs not to talk about the incident to NCIS investigators

Photos displayed at a military court martial show a decorated Navy SEAL holding up the head of a dead Islamic State fighter by the hair while clenching a knife in his other hand.

Now, a seven-man jury of mostly combat veterans will decide if it was a snapshot in poor taste of an enemy who died of battle wounds or a trophy shot of a war prisoner killed under his care.

In opening statements Tuesday in the court martial of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher the defense claimed the chief had done nothing more than provide medical care to the militant wounded in an air strike. The prosecutor accused the war veteran of premeditated murder.

On Wednesday, three Navy SEALs testified to the jury.

The first of those, Navy Seal Dylan Dille, said Gallagher was his platoon chief when SEAL Team 7 was deployed to Mosul, Iraq.

Dille said that during a mission on May 3, 2017, there was an injured ISIS fighter in need of attention and he heard Chief Gallagher respond, “No one touch him, he’s all mine.”

The fighter, who was a scrawny, young boy wearing a wristwatch, was going in and out of consciousness and was slightly bleeding from his leg, but was otherwise uninjured, Dille testified. He had no injuries to his neck.

“He looked about 12 years old,” Dille said. “He had a wrist watch around his bicep. He was rail thin.” Dille acknowledged the boy may have been as old as 15.

Dille left the scene to get some equipment and when he returned, he saw that the prisoner a medical tube filled with blood coming out of his neck. The fighter was dead.

After returning to the house where they were staying, Dille said Gallagher confronted him and other senior enlisted men and said he knew they were upset with what happened.

“This was just an ISIS dirtbag,” Dille said Gallagher told the group.

Gallagher said the next time he did something similar, it would be out of their sight, Dille testified.

Defense lawyer Tim Parlatore questioned Dille about why he never confronted Gallagher or reported him to superiors until a year after they returned from deployment.

Dille said the allegations were serious and he wanted to “be prepared for the angry mob to come knocking,” referring to conservative news media and older SEALs who maintain their silence.

Parlatore accused Dille of using a group text to coordinate other troops to report Gallagher to superiors. He asked Dille if he was concerned other SEALs would change their stories.

“My truth is watertight, Mr. Parlatore,” Dille said.

Dille also said that he believed Gallagher had fired at Iraqi civilians from a sniper’s position several times, including an instance on Father’s Day 2017 when an old man was shot by the Tigris River.

Dille was also a sniper and was near Gallagher during the shootings but didn’t see him pull the trigger.

After hearing a gunshot coming from Gallagher’s position and seeing the old man fall, Dille said he looked through his scope and saw the man bleeding through his white clothing. He said Gallagher then radioed that he thought he had missed the old man.

Defense lawyer Marc Mukasey objected to the testimony, saying descriptions of the alleged shootings were “wildly vague.”

The judge allowed most of the testimony from Dille, who was a first class special warfare operator before he left the Navy last year.

Navy SEAL Craig Miller, who is now a chief, also testified Wednesday.

“I saw him stab the prisoner. I saw him stab him in the neck,” he told jurors.

Miller said he saw blood come from the right side of the fighter’s neck. The SEAL also said he told his commanding officer right after it happened.

Miller could not remember answers to a number of the defense’s questions, so a video was shown to the chief to help him recall. The video showed Miller with other SEALs flying a drone over an area where the body of the dead ISIS fighter was found. The video was not shown to the jury.

“Prosecutors and NCIS -- they never dug down into the deeper details. They sat down, they let Craig Miller just tell his story, they never asked him all those follow-up questions. The first time anybody has ever asked him for any detail was today,” Parlatore said.

The court was shown pictures of a re-enlistment ceremony, where the team was gathered around the dead body. Dille was not pictured, and Miller was pictured. Dille said he didn’t join the group photo because it was “unprofessional.”

He testified that Lt. Jacob “Jake” Portier, who is accused of covering up Gallagher’s war crimes, conducted the chief’s reenlistment ceremony.

The defense does not dispute that Gallagher posed with the corpse.

“Was the photo in poor taste? Probably,” Parlatore told jurors in his opening statement. “Was the photo evidence of murder? No.”

Parlatore told jurors Tuesday that there’s no body, autopsy or forensic evidence to show a killing happened. He said the case was built on lies by junior SEALs who hated Gallagher because he was tough.

On Thursday, two Navy SEAL medics, who were with Gallagher and Miller when the fighter was allegedly killed, will testify in court.

Gallagher, whose case has drawn President Donald Trump’s attention, faces seven counts that include premeditated murder and attempted murder. He’s also accused of shooting two civilians — an elderly man and a school-age girl — from sniper perches in Iraq in 2017. He has pleaded not guilty and could face a life sentence.

The trial is expected to last up to three weeks. The jury is composed of five enlisted men, including a Navy SEAL and four Marines, plus a Navy commander and a Marine chief warrant officer. Most of the jurors have served in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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