Jury acquits US Navy SEAL of killing teenage ISIS prisoner in Iraq

Jury acquits US Navy SEAL of killing teenage ISIS prisoner in Iraq
Edward Gallagher, a US Navy SEAL, has been acquitted of killing a 17-year-old ISIS militant in Iraq despite witnesses saying that he plunged his knife into the teenager’s neck.
3 min read
03 July, 2019
Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher walks into court with his wife [Getty]

A military jury acquitted a decorated Navy SEAL of premeditated murder Tuesday in the killing of a wounded captive under his care in Iraq in 2017.

Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher was cleared of all charges except for posing for photos with the dead body of the captive, a 17-year-old member of Islamic State.

Gallagher, 40, reacted with "tears of joy, emotion, freedom and absolute euphoria," defense lawyer Marc Mukasey said.

Defense lawyers said Gallagher was framed by disgruntled platoon members who fabricated the allegations to oust their chief. They said there was no physical evidence to support the allegations.

The prosecution said Gallagher's own text messages and photos incriminated him. They included photos of Gallagher holding the dead militant up by the hair and clutching a knife in his other hand.

A text message Gallagher sent while deployed said "got him with my hunting knife."

The panel of five Marines and two sailors, including a SEAL, had to weigh whether Gallagher, a 19-year veteran on his eighth deployment, went off the rails and fatally stabbed the teenage war prisoner on May 3, 2017, as a kind of trophy kill, or was the victim of allegations fabricated after the platoon returned to San Diego to stop him from getting a Silver Star and being promoted.

Under the military system, two-thirds of the jury need to agree to convict, or in this case five of seven jurors, or they must acquit. Military juries also have the option to convict on lesser charges, such as attempted murder.

Most of the jurors have themselves served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gallagher was also charged with attempted murder in the shootings of two Iraqi civilians – an elderly man and a twelve-year-old-girl - and four other charges that include the unlawful discharge of his firearm by shooting at noncombatants, wrongfully posing with a human casualty, impeding an investigation by discouraging platoon members from reporting his criminal actions and retaliating against those who did.

The two-week trial included the testimonies of nearly a dozen SEALs, including Special Operator Corey Scott, a medic like Gallagher, who told the court that he saw the chief stab the Islamic State militant in the neck but stunned the court when he said he was the one who ultimately killed the prisoner by plugging his breathing tube with his thumb as an act of mercy.

Seven SEALs said Gallagher unexpectedly stabbed the captive moments after he and the other SEAL medics treated the detainee, who was wounded in an airstrike that morning outside Mosul. Two, including Scott, testified they saw Gallagher plunge his knife into the prisoner's neck.

During the trial, it was revealed that nearly all the platoon members readily posed for photos with the dead prisoner and watched as Gallagher read his re-enlistment oath near the body in an impromptu ceremony.

Defense lawyers called the pictures of Gallagher, a Bronze Star recipient, clutching the corpse's hair and his texts about his knife skills just the dark humour of a warrior.

An Iraqi general who handed the wounded prisoner to the SEALs testified that Gallagher did not stab the boy. And Marine Staff Sgt. Giorgio Kirylo said after the militant died that he moved the body to take a "cool guy trophy" photo with it and saw no stab wounds on his neck.

Gallagher's attorneys said there were a number of things that could have caused the militant's death, including internal injuries from the blast.

Most of the witnesses were granted immunity to protect them from being prosecuted for acts they described on the stand.

Lt. Jacob Portier, the officer in charge, has been charged separately for overseeing the re-enlistment ceremony and not reporting the alleged stabbing.