A San Diego military courtroom was stunned on Thursday after learning that the defendant, Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, couldn't have fatally stabbed a captured 15-year-old ISIS fighter in Iraq in 2017 - because a SEAL combat medic claims he was the one who killed the enemy combatant.
"I suffocated him," said Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Corey Scott. "I held my thumb over his trach tube until he asphyxiated."
"Did Gallagher kill this ISIS terrorist?" asked a defense attorney.
"No," answered Scott - who was testifying under immunity,telling the courtroom "I knew he was going to die anyway, and wanted to save him from waking up to whatever would have happened to him."
Scott claims that he failed to mention that he asphyxiated the prisoner in previous interviews with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), and that he was only doing so now because of his immunity to prosecution. Prosecutors, meanwhile, say Scott is lying.
The medic’s testimony on Thursday drew an angry response from prosecutors, who said that in six different interviews with Navy investigators, he had never hinted that he had suffocated the captive. They said he changed his story after receiving the grant of immunity.
“You can stand up there, and you can lie about how you killed the ISIS prisoner so Chief Gallagher does not have to go to jail,” a Navy prosecutor, Lt. Brian John, told him.
Special Operator Scott then looked over from the witness stand toward Chief Gallagher, whose wife and two of his children were in the courtroom.
“He’s got a wife and family,” Special Operator Scott said. “I don’t think he should spend the rest of his life in prison.” -New York Times
The case stems from a 2017 deployment in Iraq, when the SEAL platoon led by Callagher was supporting Iraqi troops while helping to drive ISIS fighters out of the city of Mosul. The New York Times describes the incident in detail.
Lt. Tom MacNeil told the court on Tuesday that he was on the front lines of a combat operation clearing villages on the outskirts of Mosul with Chief Gallagher on May 3, 2017, when word came over the radio that SEALs at the rear had just received a wounded Iraqi soldier from the forces who were partnering with the SEALs. Chief Gallagher, who is a trained medic, dismissed a request for medical care, saying the Iraqi forces should care for their own.
When it was clarified that the wounded Iraqi was an Islamic State fighter and not a government soldier, Lieutenant MacNeil said, Chief Gallagher responded by saying, “Lay off him, he’s mine.”
Two other SEALs reported hearing the same exchange.
Chief Gallagher then left the battle area to drive to a command post about two miles away. There, Lieutenant MacNeil said, the chief began performing aid on the captive, while Special Operator Scott helped. Medics sedated the captive and inserted a breathing tube.
Lieutenant MacNiel said he had seen Chief Gallagher kneeling over the captive, holding a custom-made knife that the chief always carried.
Another SEAL, Special Operations Chief Craig Miller, testified on Wednesday that he was about 12 feet away from the captive at the command post when he saw Chief Gallagher use the custom-made knife to stab the captive in the jugular at least twice.
He described blood spurting from the teenager’s neck, saying, “It looked similar to a baby throwing up.” -New York Times
Gallagher and their platoon commander, Lt. Jacob Portier, then gathered the platoon for a photo with the dead captive's body.
In photos that were shown in court, 12 SEALs are seen standing around the body, with Chief Gallagher in the center, smiling and holding the dead ISIS fighter by the hair. The chief is brandishing his knife and wearing a baseball cap bearing the knife-maker’s logo. -New York Times
During opening arguments, Gallagher's lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, told the jury of five Marines and two Navy sailors that SEALs who might testify against the chief were lying in the hope of getting him kicked out of the Navy.
"This case is not about murder, it’s about mutiny," said Parlatore, referring to Gallagher as a seasoned and decorated fighter leading a team of SEALs who were frightened in combat.
"They didn’t want to get in the fight," Parlatore said. "So they banded together to make a plan to get Edward Gallagher out of the fight, permanently" by reporting Gallagher to Naval commanders shortly after the 2017 incident.
Throughout the investigation, fellow SEALs have often struggled with whether, and how much, to cooperate with the Navy authorities in prosecuting one of their own. Even within Chief Gallagher’s platoon, SEALs have been at odds over whether to support the chief or to cooperate with investigators, according to one SEAL who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation.
In text messages found on Chief Gallagher’s phone, which was seized by investigators, the chief wrote to fellow SEALs about his accusers betraying the brotherhood, and asked them to ostracize his accusers. -New York Times
Several of the SEALS who testified this week said that they had received death threats online, and at least one had begun carrying a concealed weapon.
In March, Gallagher was moved from the Brig at Miramar base in San Diego to the nearby Naval Medical Center after President Trump tweeted that he should be moved to a less restrictive environment.
In honor of his past service to our Country, Navy Seal #EddieGallagher will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court. Process should move quickly! @foxandfriends @RepRalphNorman— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2019
Of note, Gallagher's legal team includes Trump's personal attorney, Marc Mukasey as well as former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, who served a brief stint with Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority following the 2003 invasion.
While he is being tried for murdering the ISIS fighter, the military judge could find Gallagher guilty of a lesser charge. If he is convicted of attempted murder he could still spend the rest of his life in prison.