Navy SEALs Testify Their Chief Shot Girl, Man in Iraq

Mike Blake/Reuters
Mike Blake/Reuters

SAN DIEGO NAVAL BASE, Calif.—Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward R. “Eddie” Gallagher, a 20-year veteran of the Navy, fatally shot a man and a young girl in Iraq during separate incidents in 2017, two of his fellow SEALS told a military court Friday afternoon. He also admonished snipers for failing to kill the man who had been walking along a river path.

Gallagher, 40, is on trial and facing seven criminal counts, including attempted murder for allegedly shooting the man and girl, and for premeditated murder for allegedly fatally stabbing a wounded, teenage ISIS fighter captured by Iraqi military forces in early May 2017.

Neither of the SEALs who testified said they actually saw Gallagher fire the fatal shots, and his defense attorney put blame for their deaths on ISIS fighters likely operating near the SEALs’ sniper positions in Mosul.

The testimony came a day after a medic who was with Gallagher shocked the court by testifying that he may have been the one who killed the girl.

The decorated SEAL has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include additional violations of general orders. He is alleged to have posed for photos with the dead ISIS fighter's corpse and he is accused of obstructing justice when he tried to stop some from reporting his actions during an Iraq deployment with SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon.

Gallagher's defense team claims that he’s being unfairly prosecuted and targeted by junior SEALs jealous of his reputation and with personal vendettas against him.

Gallagher's general court-martial began Tuesday before Judge Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh and a seven-member jury comprised of four senior enlisted Marines, a Marine chief warrant officer, a Navy SEAL chief and a Navy commander. All the jurors have combat experience. A conviction on any of the charges requires a two-thirds vote. The trial is expected to run at least through next week.

Gallagher wore his gold Trident pin above several rows of ribbons on his chest to court. He sat at a table in front of his wife, friends and family, and was flanked by five members of his defense team, including Marc Mukasey, who has served as President Trump’s personal attorney and Tim Parlatore, his lead defense attorney.

Witness Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert avoided looking at Gallagher except when asked to point out if the SEAL chief was in the room. In questioning by a Navy prosecutor Friday afternoon, Tolbert testified that both civilian shootings came as sniper teams with Alpha Platoon manned positions on towers, or damaged buildings, north and south of the Tigris River near a bridge crossing. The platoon with the Coronado, Calif.-based SEAL team had the mandate to observe and thwart any ISIS activity, which included keeping an eye out for any fighters who'd venture to the riverbanks for water or respite. Sometimes, he said, the snipers would fire warning shots to scare civilians from the area.

From his sniper post north of the river, Tolbert said he saw a man dressed run across the path toward a nearby building. He was dressed in traditional white garb that differed from what ISIS fighters usually wore. “That's when I saw a red mark on his back after hearing a shot,” he told the court. “Over the radio, I hear, ‘You guys missed him but I got him’,” Tolbert said. “It sounded like Chief Gallagher.”

The incident involving the girl happened sometime in June 2017, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Joshua Vriens told the court. Through his scope he told the court he saw four girls, about 12 to 14 years old, each wearing dressings and flowered hijabs. One of the girls, shot in the stomach, shrieked and fell on her right knee as two of the girls ran off and the fourth, in a gray dress, grabbed and dragged the wounded girl over a berm and out of sight, he said.

Prosecutors asked if he had heard shots prior to the girls scrambling away. “I heard them from the north tower,” Vriens said, adding, “It was apparent the shot came from our direction.” He said that the immediate area of Mosul had been cleared previously and ISIS units remained active a bit further to the east. But when questioned by Parlatore, Vriens said Gallagher was about 850 meters from the girl.

The court also heard that Gallagher purposely stabbed a young ISIS fighter in the neck after the wounded teenager was brought to the SEALs by Iraqi forces. Defense attorneys have argued that he rendered aid, along with several others.

On Thursday, a platoon member shocked the court when he testified that he, and not Gallagher, may have caused the young ISIS fighter’s death to put him out of his misery. Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Corey Scott testified that after he saw Gallagher stick his knife in the ISIS fighter's neck, he decided to asphyxiate the teenager by closing the breathing tube with his thumb and save him from a worse fate at the hands of the Iraqis, according to the Associated Press.

“I knew he was going to die anyway, and I wanted to save him from waking up to whatever would happen to him,” Scott, a trained medic or hospital corpsman testifying with a grant of immunity, told the court.

The identity of the ISIS fighter isn’t known, and a body was never recovered. “He was in the (Iraqi) custody the entire time,” Palatore said. Navy SEALs would have treated and stabilized him to “potentially get some intelligence out of him.”

Vriens testified he wasn’t present when the ISIS fighter died. But he testified that he was in the platoon's tactical operations room when another SEAL was looking at a photo on a computer of a teenager with dark hair who “looked like he was concussed... It looked like he had a 1,000-yard stare.” He said that Gallagher walked in the room and was asked, “is this your guy?” Vriens said. Gallagher then told them, “I stabbed him in the side, then grabbed him by the hair and I looked him in the eye and I stabbed him in the neck.”

The Navy’s case against Gallagher also has been rocked in recent months by allegations that the Navy’s secretive special operations community is a hotbed for personal vendettas after Naval Criminal Investigative Service documents and SEALs' statements were leaked to several journalists. The Navy's original prosecution team is accused of embedding emails with a software tracker directed at the defense team and journalist Carl Prine, editor of the Navy Times, to help determine the source of the leaks.

On Friday, much of the defense's line of questioning of Tolbert and Vriens centered on a meeting that several platoon members had with Gallagher hours after the ISIS fighter's death. The court also saw evidence including text messages sent among a group of SEALs called the “Sewing Circle” which included platoon members opposed of war crimes who were apparently at odds with a group Gallagher belonged to known as the “Real Brotherhood.”

Defense attorneys have criticized the government's investigation and have painted several SEALs who have testified against Gallagher as weak operators and liars stretching the truth for their own benefit.

“We’re feeling pretty good about this,” Parlatore said during a short news conference outside the courtroom building after Friday's afternoon session concluded at the naval base. “These younger millennials feel they were just there to be able to say that they’re SEALs, they went to Mosul and they could get out and go on to their future careers with that 'former Navy SEAL' tagline on their bio.”

Parlatore said the younger SEALS avoided conflict. “It’s surprising the things that they shied away from in this case,” said Parlatore, who served as a former naval officer before becoming an attorney. “They were there to clear Mosul, to fight this war. But these guys were more concerned with staying back, staying under cover and then blaming the chief.”

Prosecutors have not made any public statements outside of court since the trial began.

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