A decorated Navy SEAL facing a court-martial for allegedly stabbing a teenage ISIS prisoner to death in Iraq and shooting at Iraqi civilians pleaded not guilty in San Diego Friday to charges of premeditated murder and aggravated assault.
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher — a 19-year Navy veteran — faces life in prison if convicted. His trial is set for Feb. 19.
Meanwhile, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, said Gallagher’s case needs to be taken away from the Navy, and “President Trump himself needs to personally review and dismiss this case, taking an American hero out of a prison cell and [put] back on the front lines where he belongs.”
Gallagher’s defense team asked a judge to release the defendant from pretrial confinement at the Miramar Brig, but a decision on that issue wasn’t expected until next week, according to Navy spokesman Brian O’Rourke.
During an Article 32 hearing in November, Navy prosecutors accused Gallagher of killing an injured ISIS fighter who they estimate was about 15 years old. The fatal stabbing happened in Mosul, Iraq, in May 2017.
Rear Adm. Yancey Lindsey, commander of Navy Region Southwest, reviewed the evidence presented at the Article 32 hearing and determined that Gallagher should face court-martial.
Prosecutors also presented evidence that they said shows Gallagher tried to bribe fellow SEALs not to talk about the incident to NCIS investigators.
Gallagher’s attorney, Phil Stackhouse, said his client should be judged by a military jury of his peers because of the nature of the allegations in a combat zone. Disgruntled SEALs made the allegations against Gallagher, his attorney said.
Earlier Friday, Hunter came to the defense of Gallagher.
“I have personally reviewed Chief Petty Officer Gallagher’s case thoroughly and my staff has met with his family and remained in consistent communication,” Hunter said in a statement.
“Chief Gallagher stands accused of murder in the killing of a verified ISIS combatant in a war zone based on inconsistent testimony and without any physical evidence. It is important to remember that this ISIS combatant was engaged in an extensive firefight with Chief Gallagher’s team and was already significantly injured when captured. No credible evidence has been provided that this ISIS fighter was murdered as opposed to dying from his terrorist actions.”
Hunter, a former Marine who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he also received reports that Gallagher was being confined to the brig where he allegedly had not been provided quality access to medical care, mental health services or legal representation.
“I am reviewing this situation further,” Hunter said. “If true, it is completely unacceptable and, without hesitation, I will introduce legislation to ensure this situation is not repeated. South American criminal illegal aliens are provided with better access to legal representation than our nation’s elite warriors because bureaucratic lawyers in the Navy justice system see this situation as an opportunity to make their name and advance their career.”
Hunter hailed Gallagher for multiple combat deployments both as a Corpsman with the Marine Corps and as a SEAL.
“Those who have served with him in combat describe him as nothing less than an American hero,” Hunter said. “I am significantly concerned that this is another example of the over-aggressiveness of the Navy JAG Corp showing its bias against our warfighters.”
Hunter called the Navy’s justice system verifiably political in nature.
— City News Service contributed to this report.