A U.S. Navy judge has made a first ruling in the case of Navy SEAL Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher, and it clears Gallagher of at least one charge of several brought against him by his own SEAL teammates.
Capt. Aaron Rugh ruled that conducting a re-enlistment ceremony alongside a corpse or flying a drone over the corpse – two accusations made against Gallagher – does not meet the criteria of a war crime as defined in Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), according to a Navy Times report on Saturday.
Gallagher is accused of using a knife to stab a detained teenaged ISIS fighter multiple times in May 2017 in Mosul, which allegedly resulted in the fighter’s eventual death while in SEAL custody. Prosecutors say Gallagher then used the corpse as a prop for his re-enlistment ceremony.
Rugh said that although the alleged acts were in “poor taste,” no charges could be brought forth for them.
Gallagher has remained in confinement for five months, and was recently denied release from pre-trial confinement. His trial begins Feb. 19.
Gallagher’s attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, said that they anticipate calling at least 20 witnesses to testify.
Judge clears Navy SEAL of war crime charges. Edward Gallagher murdered captives & posed during a battlefield re-enlistment ceremony with corpse of a dead militant. Other troops discussed “what they should do to stop [him] from killing innocent civilians” https://t.co/mOtkVd5ob7
— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) February 4, 2019
The judge’s recent decision is a small victory in Gallagher’s case, which initially involved 14 charges ranging from premeditated murder to assault with a deadly weapon, and others.
Gallagher has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. If convicted, he could receive a life sentence in prison.
The judges decision to dump the two charges is also good news for Gallagher’s then-platoon leader, Lt. Jacob Portier, who also faces numerous charges related to the ISIS fighter incident, including dereliction of duty, failure to report a war crime, destruction of evidence and interfering with an investigation.
Portier, who is accused of lying to cover up Gallagher’s alleged crimes, said, “There was nothing criminal. It was just in poor taste,” Navy Times reported.
“It is honorable for a Navy SEAL to re-enlist on the battlefield, the same battlefield where he was willing to sacrifice his own life to protect our nation,” said Jeremiah Sullivan, Portier’s defense attorney.
Gallagher and his legal team, as well as other evidence, contradict the allegations against him.
His legal team and family says that multiple fellow SEAL teammates fabricated the numerous charges against him due to disagreements with his leadership style.
For instance, the ISIS fighter Gallagher allegedly murdered is seen in a May 2017 YouTube video with Iraqi journalist Ali Jawad, in which the fighter is barely conscious on the ground after suffering critical wounds from a gunfight with Iraqi forces.
The fighter was taken into custody and given medical treatment by the Navy SEALs in Gallagher’s unit, but prosecutors allege Gallagher appeared out of nowhere and stabbed the fighter to death, unprovoked.
Gallagher’s defense team says this did not happen.
Like Gallagher, Portier and his legal team believe the charges were drummed up in an attempt to take down high-profile SEALs.
“What this comes down to is that they wanted an officer’s scalp, so they picked Portier,” Sullivan told Navy Times.