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Congressman Duncan Hunter calls on President Trump to intervene on behalf of Navy SEAL charged with Iraq war crimes

Congressman Duncan Hunter leaves San Diego federal court on September 24, 2018. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., announced Wednesday he had sent a letter asking President Donald Trump to intervene in the case of a San Diego-based Navy SEAL being held at the Navy Consolidated Brig on MCAS Miramar.

Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward R. Gallagher, 39, is charged with committing multiple war crimes while on deployment in Mosul, Iraq, in 2017. He is charged with premeditated murder, shooting civilians and with attempting to obstruct justice by intimidating witnesses.

He was arrested on Sept. 11 and has been confined to a military brig since. His trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 19.

On Monday, Hunter visited Gallagher in the brig for about 45 minutes to an hour, according to Hunter spokesman Michael Harrison.

In a letter to the president, dated Monday, Hunter — who himself served as a Marine infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan — says the conditions at the brig are no way to treat an “American war hero.”

“Chief Gallagher has been forced into a general population which consists mostly of convicted sex offenders and pedophiles,” Hunter says in the letter. “Reportedly his children are required to wear ‘hospital gowns’ while they visit, so that they may not ‘bring unwanted attention from’ any of the other inmates.”

Hunter calls the policy “irregularly harsh for someone that has not stood trial or even charged with any sexual misconduct charges.”

“A Navy SEAL with eight combat deployments and two Bronze Stars with Valor deserves better,” Hunter says.

Among Gallagher’s military decorations are two Bronze Star with combat “V” awards, signifying the SEAL had performed “acts or services (while) exposed to personal hazard involving direct participation in combat operations,” according to Navy regulations.

Hunter goes on to say that Gallagher’s brig confinement has interfered with his right to a speedy trial.

“In order for his current legal representation to meet with Chief Gallagher inside of the Brig, they first must obtain permission to enter the base and are forced to speak with their client in rooms that allegedly have cameras, guards and most likely microphones,” Hunter says. “These circumstances could directly interfere with his attorney-client privilege.”

Although Hunter did not make specific requests of the president, in another statement Friday he described the Navy Judge Advocate Corps as “over aggressive” and the Navy justice system “political.” Hunter has made similar criticisms of the U.S Department of Justice for its prosecution of Hunter on campaign-finance charges and its investigation into the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia.

“Due to verifiable political nature of the Navy’s justice system, I believe that Chief Gallagher’s matter needs to be taken away from the Navy and President Trump himself needs to personally review and dismiss this case, taking an American hero out of a prison cell and back on the front lines where he belongs,” Hunter said in the statement.

Harrison said on the phone Wednesday that the congressman would be watching developments in the case closely.

“(Gallagher) has not been convicted of anything,” Harrison said.

A spokeswoman for Navy Personnel Command, which oversees the brig, said she could not comment specifically on Hunter’s statement Wednesday, but provided the brig’s dress code and visitation rules to the Union-Tribune.

It says “excessively tight or revealing clothing,” which includes shorts shorter than mid-thigh and shirts that don’t cover the midriff, would be considered inappropriate for visitation.

Gallagher’s court-martial on war crimes charges began Friday. Military prosecutors say that during a 2017 deployment in Iraq, Gallagher, who is also a medic, stabbed a wounded ISIS combatant under his care, then posed for photos next to the body. He is also accused of holding his re-enlistment ceremony next to the teenage fighter’s corpse.

Upon returning to San Diego and learning he was under investigation, prosecutors say Gallagher reached out to a network of former SEAL community members in an effort to leak the names of SEALs cooperating with investigators — names he ascertained because their initials were printed on a search warrant authorities provided when they searched his home.

Attorneys for Gallagher told reporters after Friday’s hearing that the SEAL’s actions that day in Iraq did not the cause the fighter’s death.

“The question in what he’s being charged with is, ‘Did he murder anyone?’” said Colby Vokey, one of Gallagher’s attorneys. “No, he didn’t murder anyone.”

Neither Vokey nor Gallagher’s other civilian attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, would comment on whether Gallagher stabbed the fighter in the neck, only saying he did not murder him.

Gallagher’s attorneys filed a motion Friday asking the judge, Capt. Aaron Rugh, to release Gallagher from the brig while he’s awaiting trial. A ruling is expected this week.


© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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