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San Diego-Based Navy SEAL To Face Court-Martial Over Death Of ISIS Fighter

January 3, 2019 1:32 p.m.

GUEST: Dave Philipps, correspondent covering veterans and the military, New York Times

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Related Story: San Diego-Based Navy SEAL To Face Court-Martial Over Death Of ISIS Fighter

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Decorated Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher will be arraigned tomorrow at Naval Base San Diego on a long list of charges including premeditated murder for the stabbing death of an injured ISIS fighter. An ISIS fighter was estimated to be between 12 and 17 when he died. Joining me to discuss the case is Dave Phillips a correspondent who covers veterans and the military for the New York Times. Thanks for joining us Dave. Happy to be here. Now the prosecution has video and photos of the ISIS fighter that Gallagher is accused of killing. What do these photos show.

They show a scenario that was described at a preliminary hearing. Essentially the SEALs were advising an Iraqi force that was attacking ISIS fighters on the outskirts of the Iraqi city of Mosul and an injured young man was brought to them. And seals started rendering aid to this man. He had either been been shot or injured in an airstrike. That's still unclear. But anyway what came out at the preliminary hearing is that some seals had reported that Chief Gallagher came up while they were rendering first aid to this Iraqi ISIS fighter and stabbed him in the neck with a custom hunting knife and killed him.

Beyond the premeditated murder charge what else is Edward Gallagher accused of.

It's an interesting story. Edward Gallagher is a guy who served for 17 years and rose to the top of a really elite force. He's repeatedly decorated for Harry's heroism he's deployed to combat eight times. But the charges all swirl around a common story that he kind of came unhinged. That as a sniper outside of the Iraqi city of Mosul he was shooting at people that didn't need to be shot and that he was putting his fellow SEALs that were junior to him into unnecessary harm that he was berating them for being weak.

Now the defense says that the reason he's being prosecuted is that the people below him who became bitter at his high standards essentially concocted stories about him. But what he's being charged with is essentially not only killing a wounded fighter but shooting at old women and young children from a sniper position outside of the city endangering some of his junior seals by having them fire rocket launchers too often which can cause zero damage to to their heads just basically sort of going beyond what he's allowed to do.

And officers said they were threatened by Gallagher if they came forward and told anyone about his behavior. Is there a culture in the military against speaking out.

I think there's a culture in every organization against speaking out. The prosecution did present some evidence that a pulmonary hearing late last year that showed there were some text messages and other communications suggesting that Chief Kalka was angry at people who were making accusations against him and wanted to do something about it. It was a short time after the Navy learned of those messages that he was detained at the end of the summer. He's been in the brig since. And he also faces an obstruction of justice charge.

And you mentioned Gallagher's 17 years of service. We know he'd been on eight deployments you know since Operation Iraqi Freedom started you know military personnel have been sent out on back to back deployments. How does that affect the mental health of those who are deployed without time to be home.

I think that is really individual. It depends on what people experience in war how they perceive it and so many other factors. Interestingly no one yet in this case has made any claims of a traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. The prosecutors are saying you know that this guy acted to kill people needlessly. And the defense is essentially saying not well he did too many deployments but just it never happened. You know this is rumors being spread by people who had a vendetta against him.

And Dave you wrote in your article that one Navy prosecutor said the chief had done damage beyond murder and that Chief Gallagher decided to act like the monster the terrorist accused us of being essentially handing ISIS propaganda manna from heaven. His actions are everything ISIS says we are. End quote. Are those the type of accusations used for ISIS recruitment.

I don't really know. But certainly one of the key pieces of evidence in this case is is what the prosecution and the defense called a Kilshaw. That is a photograph of chief Gallagher holding up the head of the slain ISIS fighter. And it is likely that if that got into the hands of ISIS fighters that they could use that for recruitment.

On the other hand I think that they have no trouble recruiting with it. I think that the larger issue is we ask seals and other special operators to go out into very difficult situations and we give them a great deal of freedom and autonomy to do what needs to be done. We rely on them increasingly instead of regular troops. And that is a burden. And there's a lot of things that can happen that probably we wish wouldn't and Gallagher is scheduled to be arraigned on Friday.

What can we expect to happen after that arraignment.

Is this going to trial or it will almost certainly go to trial. I don't think they've set a date yet but we may learn more about that on Friday. The military tends to move fairly quickly so I wouldn't be surprised if if that trial takes place within a few months and if convicted.

Do you know what type of sentence Gallagher is looking at.

Yes surprisingly the military has lighter sentences than the civilian world on this stuff.

But murder can carry you know a couple of decades for premeditated murder.

I've been speaking with Dave Phillips a correspondent who covers veterans and the military for the New York Times. Dave thanks for joining us. Thank you.