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Navy SEAL war crimes trial delayed again amid prosecution shake-up

Navy SEAL Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher. (Justice for Eddie/Released)

The trial of a San Diego-based Navy SEAL charged with committing multiple war crimes during a 2017 deployment to Iraq has been delayed until June 17, Navy spokesman Brian O’Rourke said Thursday.

The trial was scheduled to begin Monday. O’Rourke did not offer a reason for the delay.

Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward R. Gallagher, 40, was indicted in January on charges that he killed a wounded teenage Islamic State fighter brought to the SEAL’s Mosul, Iraq compound for medical treatment in 2017. A number of Gallagher’s fellow SEALs told the Naval Criminal Investigative Service after the platoon returned from Iraq, according to NCIS testimony.

Gallagher denies all charges and pleaded not guilty.

His trial already has been delayed twice: once in February and again last month, when defense attorneys discovered that emails sent to them by the prosecution had embedded links designed to track where and when they were opened and forwarded. Defense attorneys said the prosecution was spying on them and a Navy Times reporter via email.

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On Monday, Cmdr. Chris Czaplak, the lead prosecutor in the case, was disqualified and removed from the case due to his role in the email tracking. The judge, Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh, said he removed Czaplak because his actions left him susceptible to an investigation and represented a conflict of interest in prosecuting Gallagher.

The Navy has not commented on whether Czaplak is under investigation.

Another Navy prosecutor, Cmdr. Jeffrey Pietrzyk, joined the prosecution team Thursday, O’Rourke said.

Rugh freed Gallagher from pretrial restriction last week because, he said, the delay caused by Czaplak’s actions had violated Gallagher’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

The defense made other motions, including a request that Rugh throw out the charges. Rugh has yet to announce a decision on those motions.

Defense attorney Timothy Parlatore said Thursday he anticipates a ruling on the remaining motions on Friday.

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© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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