Confusion brewed nationwide this week when the a report incorrectly reported that Special Operations Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher’s fellow Navy SEALs had secured immunity in exchange for testifying against him, a claim that many media outlets repeated, and built a narrative of SEALs turning against their decorated chief.
Gallagher’s attorney Phil Stackhouse told American Military News, “That makes it look like the entire platoon is turning against Eddie, and they’re just not.”
At least seven fellow Navy SEALs have been granted immunity to speak to both the prosecution and defense lawyers in Gallagher’s trial.
Gallagher has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him, which include premeditated murder and assault with a deadly weapon.
Gallagher is accused of using a knife to stab a detained 15-year-old ISIS fighter multiple times in May 2017, which eventually resulted in the fighter’s death while in SEAL custody, though Gallagher and his legal team, as well as other evidence, contradict the allegations. He has claimed that multiple fellow SEALs fabricated the numerous charges against him due to disagreement with his leadership style.
Lawyers can’t grant immunity, and they can’t even order depositions in the military. Those powers lie with the Commander of the Navy region, as well as the trial judge.
In actuality, Stackhouse said the witnesses had secured lawyers before the Article 32 hearing in November 2018 and had refused to speak to the prosecution or defense without immunity.
“Immunity is just a tool to free up someone from invoking their Fifth Amendment rights,” Stackhouse explained.
Initially, Stackhouse said the defense requested the judge order depositions from the witnesses since they had lawyers and refused to talk. The judge, however, refused, since the witnesses were available for the trial. Instead, he ordered all witnesses to be made available to the defense, and the prosecution revealed that seven of a dozen witnesses were granted immunity by the Navy.
Until the immunity was granted, neither the prosecution nor the defense even knew what the witnesses would say, or which side their testimony would support.
“We anticipate calling all seven of them [the witnesses],” Stackhouse said.
It’s unclear how many of those seven the prosecution will call. Neither side knows what any witness will say until they’re interviewed, which could not be done before until immunity was granted.
“Your trial strategy continues to develop. You don’t know you’re going to call a particular witness until you call that particular witness,” he explained.
Stackhouse said the defense may initiate immunity requests for additional witnesses.
“I do anticipate that both sides will call over 20 witnesses,” Stackhouse said, adding that they would be a mix of military and civilian witnesses.
Both sides are finalizing their witness and evidence lists ahead of the Feb. 19 trial date.