A decorated US Navy SEAL was found not guilty on Tuesday of murdering a captive teenage fighter in Iraq, the most serious of the charges brought against him during a two-week war crimes trial in San Diego in the United States.
Edward Gallagher, 49, was likewise acquitted of two counts of attempted murder against Iraqi civilians but was convicted of posing for a photograph beside the corpse of the captive Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) group fighter.
The maximum sentence he could face is four months’ imprisonment, meaning he is set to walk free following Tuesday’s military court verdict on account of the nine months he has already served in pre-trial confinement.
The jury found Gallagher “not guilty of murder, not guilty of stabbing, not guilty of shooting, not guilty of all those things, they found him guilty of taking a photograph,” Timothy Parlatore, one of Gallagher’s lawyer’s, told journalists outside the court.
Gallagher could have faced life in prison if found guilty of the most serious charge against him, premeditated murder.
Several fellow SEAL team members testified he fatally stabbed the captured Iraqi prisoner in the neck with a custom-made knife after the teenage fighter was brought to Gallagher’s outpost for medical treatment.
Some of the same witnesses also said they saw Gallagher, who was originally trained as a medic, perform a number of emergency procedures on the detainee before he died.
Gallagher also was charged with attempted murder in the wounding of two unarmed civilians – a schoolgirl and an elderly man – shot from a sniper’s perch, as well as with firing deliberately on other non-combatants and with obstruction of justice.
He was found not guilty of all charges but the one stemming from the photos he and fellow SEAL team members took with the dead ISIL fighter, who was brought to Gallagher’s camp by an Iraqi general after being badly wounded in an air attack.
Gallagher insisted that disgruntled subordinates with no prior battlefield experience fabricated allegations against him over grievances with his leadership style and tactics.
US President Donald Trump intervened in Gallagher’s case months ago, ordering he be moved from pretrial detention in a military brig to confinement at a Navy base. The presiding judge later released Gallagher from custody altogether, in a rebuke to prosecutors for pre-trial conduct the judge said had infringed on the Navy SEAL’s right to fair proceedings.
The prosecution’s case was dealt a major blow when a witness said that it was he, not Gallagher, who had put an end to the captive ISIL fighter’s life.
Corey Scott, a first class petty officer, testified that while he had seen Gallagher stab the wounded fighter in the neck in May 2017, he had killed the boy afterwards.
He testified that he covered the victim’s breathing tube with his thumb and then watched him die.
Scott said he did so to spare the boy – who prosecutors say was about 15 years old – from suffering or being tortured by Iraqi forces.
Scott, who was given immunity from prosecution, acknowledged during questioning that he made the revelation to spare Gallagher, who is married and has children, from going to prison.
Prosecutors argued Scott’s version of events was a fabrication and that he was lying to protect Gallagher.