A Navy SEAL pleaded not guilty Friday to a charge of premeditated murder in the stabbing death of an injured person in Iraq. Lawyers in the courtroom say the male victim was an ISIS fighter.
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher faces a slew of accusations connected to violations of military law while he was deployed to the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2017.
Among the accusations against Gallagher are that he stabbed and killed a wounded person, shot at noncombatants, posed for a photo and performed his re-enlistment ceremony next to a corpse, according to a charge sheet from November.
Witnesses told investigators that the stabbing victim appeared to be about 15.
Part of Friday’s hearing was concerned with whether he would be let out of the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego before the start of his two-week trial, scheduled to begin on February 19.
Two Navy SEALs testified on Gallagher’s behalf, praising his character and telling the court that he would not be a flight risk if he was allowed out of the brig before his trial begins.
“I’d like to have him on the battleground on any given day,” one of the SEALs said.
Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence, public affairs officer with the Naval Special Warfare Command, previously said the Navy was taking the allegations seriously.
“We train and operate in dynamic, complex and ambiguous environments and our operators are empowered and trusted to independently make difficult decisions during missions,” Lawrence said in a statement.
“They have consistently proven that their empowerment and trust is warranted. Allegations that indicate otherwise are, and will continue to be, investigated by the appropriate military and law enforcement authorities.”
When asked by CNN if Gallagher had stabbed the ISIS fighter, defense attorney Colby Vokey told reporters after the hearing that Gallagher didn’t murder anyone, while also saying Gallagher and other special operators are asked to do unimaginable things on the battlefield.
“The question is, it is lawful?” he said.
Gallagher being ‘demonized,’ supporter says
The charge sheet said that Gallagher “did … with premeditation, murder a wounded male person” under his care by “stabbing him in the neck and body with a knife” while battling ISIS in Mosul in May 2017.
He is charged with shooting at a male and female noncombatant near Mosul in June and July of 2017, and is also charged with wrongfully retaliating against and “attempting to discourage members of his platoon from reporting his actions while in Iraq” when he and his unit were back in San Diego.
Additionally the Navy has charged Gallagher with “wrongfully” posing for an unofficial picture “with a human casualty” and wrongfully completing his re-enlistment ceremony next to a human casualty.
Walking into court at the Naval Base San Diego on Friday, Gallagher’s wife, Andrea, told CNN, “This is a travesty of justice and it needs to be righted.”
Edward Gallagher was dressed in his uniform and was not handcuffed.
A group of Gallagher’s supporters gathered outside the courthouse of the San Diego Naval Base on Friday. Many of them wore shirts that read, “Free Eddie,” with an American flag on the sleeve.
“We want to drive home our belief in Eddie’s overall innocence and the fact that he’s being persecuted as a good man,” said Aaron Kahn, who told CNN he’s a friend of Gallagher’s and visits him every Sunday at a military prison.
“Eddie’s being demonized and not characterized as a good human being,” Kahn said, “and his 19½ years of service has been … dismissed and not appreciated by the American public and government.”
If convicted of murder Gallagher would face life in prison.
CNN’s Paul Vercammen and Nick Watt reported from San Diego, Dakin Andone reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Ryan Browne and Marlena Baldacci contributed to this report.