Special operations chief Edward Gallagher is also accused of shooting at unarmed Iraqi civilians at random
A decorated navy Seal has pleaded not guilty to charges of premeditated murder and other crimes in the stabbing death of a teenage Islamic State prisoner in Iraq and theshooting of unarmed Iraqi civilians.
Special operations chief Edward Gallagher has been jailed since his September arrest, and a judge said he would rule next week whether the 19-year navy veteran should be released before trial. He was due to stand trial 19 February.
“He didn’t murder anyone,” his attorney Phil Stackhouse told reporters outside the courtroom at a naval base San Diego. “He didn’t shoot at innocent people in the street.”
Navy prosecutors have painted a picture of a highly trained fighter and medic going off the rails in 2017 on his eighth deployment, indiscriminately shooting at Iraqi civilians and stabbing to death a captured Islamic State fighter estimated to be 15 years old, then posing with the corpse, including at his re-enlistment ceremony.
The case is unusual because of the seriousness of the allegations against an elite soldier and because the case includes accounts of fellow Navy Seals, an extremely tight-knit group even by military standards.
At Gallagher’s arraignment, prosecutors handed over 1,700 pages of documents, including text messages they say show he tried to intimidate witnesses.
But Stackhouse said Gallagher was being falsely accused by disgruntled Seals who wanted to get rid of a demanding platoon leader and that several of the government’s witnesses have now indicated they do not clearly remember what happened.
He suggested Gallagher be released with a protective order to stay away from witnesses.
Gallagher, who was awarded the Bronze Star twice, showed little emotion as he sat in the courtroom in a navy dress uniform covered in medals. If convicted, he faces a life sentence.
At a two-day preliminary hearing at the Navy base in November, investigators said Gallagher stabbed the Islamic State teenager in the neck and body with a knife after he was handed over to the Seals in the Iraqi city of Mosul. He was due to be treated for wounds sustained by the Iraqi army and its prisoners during an airstrike in May 2017.
Naval criminal investigative service special agent Joe Warpinski told the court that a Seal medic told him he believed he had just stabilized the teen when Gallagher “walked up without saying anything at all” and started stabbing him.
Afterward, prosecutors say he took photos of himself with the corpse, holding up his knife in one hand and propping up the body by holding the head with his other hand and bragged: “I got this one with my knife, with my hunting knife.”
Warpinski, who spoke to nine members of Seal Team 7, said he was told Gallagher would fire into crowds of Iraqis. He is accused of shooting an elderly man carting a water jug in Mosul in June 2017 and a girl walking along a riverbank in the same area a month later.