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Navy SEAL Sentenced For Posing With Dead Captive

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The same military jurors who acquitted a decorated Navy SEAL of murder in the killing of a wounded Islamic State captive under his care in Iraq in 2017 will return to court Wednesday to decide whether he should serve any jail time for the single charge he was convicted of: posing with the 17-year-old militant's corpse.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 Moments ago, a court martial jury sentenced Navy Seal, Eddie Gallagher at the 32nd street naval station. This after he was acquitted on all but one charge that is for posing with the Corp seven Isis fighter. Here's Gallagher speaking publicly about the outcome of the trial. Earlier this morning in an interview on Fox and friends,

Speaker 2: 00:18 this smaller group of seals that decided to, uh, concoct this story, um, and no way, shape or form represent the community, the community that I've, you know, loved and, um, gave my soul to. So, um, this has put a, uh, a black eye on the, uh, this community. Um, but I want the nation to know that this is not what our community is about. This community is full of elite warriors that I've been honored and blessed to work with for the past 20 years.

Speaker 1: 00:47 KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh joins us from the courthouse with more. Steve, welcome.

Speaker 3: 00:54 Hi Jake. How's it going?

Speaker 1: 00:55 Good, Steve, how did the Court Marshall Jury Sentence Eddie Gallagher this morning?

Speaker 3: 01:01 Well, you know, he's been, he was found not guilty of all of the most serious crimes. But on this last one, this posing with a corpse on the battlefield, it looked, it appears as if the jury really did give him pretty close to the maximum sentence. The maximum was only four months in confinement and they gave him four months in confinement. They also, um, their a sentence was to reduce him in rank from an e a seven to an e six and a forfeit, uh, four months of pay, $2,697 each one of those months. So this was pretty much the maximum they could have given him under this one last remaining sentence.

Speaker 1: 01:44 How will that reduction in rank to Aesics Affect Gallagher?

Speaker 3: 01:49 Well, and before we even get into that, there's a, there has been a kind of a question in court. Um, some of the attorneys are wrangling back and forth and there is a, in the military law, there is a, uh, a caveat that says if you're convicted of confinement, even even a day, um, you receive a reduction in rank. And most of the attorneys believe that's all the way down to e one, which would be just a recruit sailor right at the beginning. So that would have, uh, an a, just a tremendous impact on his retirement. If that's the case though the jury, um, they said [inaudible] there's some questions of whether or not they may have to go even farther, but, um, you know, he's at 18 years, so if he's going to retire at 20, which is the norm, they usually take the, your last three years of PE as the, as the, as the, uh, it's sort of the base rate for how you retire. So if he's going to get a reduction in rent, even the six, that, that's going to have an impact on the amount of money he's going to receive for the rest of his clients.

Speaker 1: 02:50 And let me ask you this. You say they gave him four months since Gallagher already served seven months in the Brig. He's now a free man. Is that right?

Speaker 3: 02:58 Yeah, that's what it'd be. That is what is expected. In fact, he even had some, uh, um, he had both time in the break and the judge had tacked on a few extra weeks because, uh, even when he was released from the break that he felt he was not able to fully participate in his defense. So, um, yeah, he seems to have plenty of time so he should be able to walk out of here. In fact, we were expecting a press conference, uh, within the hour

Speaker 1: 03:27 and Gallagher took the stand a what did he have to say?

Speaker 3: 03:31 So unlike that quote, you played from Fox and friends, um, this morning in courts, you had a, a very contrite Eddie Gallagher who took responsibility for this. Uh, what he said was a mistake posing with his dead fighter on the battlefield and encouraging members of his platoon to participate in similar photos. And he said, I've made mistakes throughout my 20 year career. Tactical, ethical, and moral. I'm not perfect, but I've always bounced back and I'm ready to bounce back from this. And again, he said it in a very muted tone. It was actually a little bit difficult to hear him at times.

Speaker 1: 04:10 Steve, another seal, the commanding officer, Lieutenant Jacob Portiere is also fighting a court martial for not disclosing information related to the same charges. Gallagher faced a, what does the outcome of this case mean for protease a court Marshall.

Speaker 3: 04:26 So what we know at this time is that court Marshall is going forward. In fact, there's a hearing that's scheduled to go really within the hour in this very same courtroom on that case, even though Gallagher was exonerated of the underlying charge of, of murder, there's still the discharge that, uh, um, Portier did not do enough to, uh, um, to advance this case and obstructed it. Um, there's also a, another charge of, uh, uh, related to the posing with a corpse. So we'll see where that case goes. But for the moment the lieutenants quarter year is still charged with war crimes

Speaker 1: 05:08 and there are implications for more than just Gallagher in this outcome. What can you tell us about how this trial has affected the careers of other seals?

Speaker 3: 05:16 Well, again, from the very beginning of this was a case where we do not get this window into navy seals. This is very secretive community for a lot of good reasons. And so it was not only Gallagher's career who that it was on the line, but many of his accusers as well. Uh, that Dylan Tolbert had moved on to what is commonly what is called the development group, which we would call field team six on the stand. He said he was now quite unlikely that he'll ever deploy, uh, with seal team six because his name is out there in the public. Many of the seals have moved on from seal team seven. They're at respective places. Chief Craig Miller is over at, uh, at buds here on [inaudible]. So, um, going forward, um, this is going to have a last lasting impact on many of the people who are in this courtroom over the last three weeks.

Speaker 4: 06:09 As Gallagher said. Anything else about what's next for him? I mean, will he remain in the navy or retire?

Speaker 3: 06:16 Well, it seems quite likely that he will have to remain in the, in the navy 20 years is the marks for your retirement. So people do their 20. It seems very clear that he is expected to stay in the navy. So he's got, he'll probably never deploy again. He was already been on his eighth deployment and wasn't expected to deploy ever again. But um, it's quite likely that he will remain in the navy, uh, for at least next couple of years.

Speaker 4: 06:43 I've been speaking with KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh. Steve, thank you very much.

Speaker 3: 06:48 Thanks you

Speaker 5: 06:50 [inaudible]

Speaker 4: 06:54 the Court Martial of Edward Gallagher was riddled with delays, missteps and shocking testimony. But the bottom line is that once again, a high profile war crimes trial has ended in the almost complete acquittal of a US service member seven years ago and other major war crimes prosecution here in San Diego involving the US military in Iraq ended in a similar fashion, the lone marine to stand trial for civilian killings and had dita pled guilty to one minor offense. So what is the problem with these prosecutions? Are they baseless as the defense attorneys have claimed, or is it difficult for members of the military to convict one of their own four combat offenses? And if so, what does that mean for the integrity of the U s military? Joining me to discuss this are David Brahms, a retired brigadier general who served in the u s marine corps and a former military judge. David, welcome to the program. Thank you. And Gary Solas is a retired marine corps lieutenant colonel and former military judge who teaches law at Georgetown and who joins us by Skype. But Gary, welcome. Thank you. Glad to be here. First, let me direct this to you, David, and I want to get both of your feelings on this. What was your reaction to the outcome of this case?

Speaker 6: 08:10 Justice who served justice as defined in a criminal process in which prosecution under the fence develop a narrative and then tried to sell it with the ultimate determiners being a court Marshall Panel, not a jury, as it has been frequently referred to that paddle starts with the presumption of innocence. It's the government's burden to prove guilt beyond the reasonable doubt, which is a very high standard.

Speaker 4: 08:42 Let me go to you, Gary. What was your reaction? Well, I was not surprised whether or not justice was served as another question, but I was not surprised because this was a difficult case from the get go. They had no body, they had no autopsy. That hours makes it a murder prosecution, a slog. There was dissension in the ranks of the possible witnesses. Some were pro gallacher, others who are protective of Gallagher and the sealed brand and some wanted to do the w in my view, was the right thing and get word of the possible criminality to senior authority as required by dod orders. And in addition to that, there was the navy commands negligence and not bringing the case forward for a year after it had been reported to them. And predictably there were pro Gallagher witnesses that were there to screw up the prosecution case, not to mention the unbelievably stupid prosecution cyber tracking thing that they had in an email to the defense. That was unbelievably ignorant of them. And then there was Scott, the government witness who flipped on the stand. Yeah. I wanted to ask David about that. The the medics testimony on the stand. How much of an impact do you think that had on the triers of fact?

Speaker 6: 09:55 It was significant. You have to understand that in the context of a court Marshall Trial, here's this chief petty officer, but true warrior every day, the left side of his chest blues loud on your start with a maybe a little sympathy, I'm willing to hear, uh, the gee, I'd really like that the government put on too many witnesses as mine and my view regarding the stabbing, I didn't need more than a couple. And by virtue of that and the fences mean that this was a group of people who got together to tell a story, I would say it differently. It was a group of people who was prevailed upon by poor investigators, unconvinced perhaps frightened into telling the story that they told. In that context, we now have a key bit of evidence which allows the members of the court Marshall Pedal to feel, yeah. This story isn't quite right.

Speaker 4: 11:03 David, you were here and you were talking to us here on midday edition during the court, Marshall, uh, about [inaudible]

Speaker 6: 11:11 the Dessa and hummed the Nia, both of which would try to a, and I was a cultural on each one of those.

Speaker 4: 11:19 Tell me, how does this Gallagher case compare with that in your estimation?

Speaker 6: 11:24 I think it's kin to it a at least akin to the hum, the near case in which the allegation was that the eight marines took a fellow out of his house, shot and killed him after setting up a scene to cover their tracks. It was an intentional murder and as I recall, most of those fellows work, convicted and sentenced to significantly long periods of time.

Speaker 4: 11:50 Gary, what do you think this case about the struggles of military courts in prosecuting alleged war crimes? I think this tells us that if the prosecution can't get its act together, then a not guilty verdict should not be surprising. And I believe that in this case, although it was a difficult case for the prosecution, I nevertheless believe that the defense did not win the case so much as the government lost the case, which is true of Hadida as well, where prosecutorial and aptitude was on, on full display. Gary, what do you think, what influence, if any, did the interjection of the President uh, with, with a possible pardon reports of a possible pardon? Uh, releasing Edward Gallagher from custody. What influence, if any, do you think that had? It's very hard to tell, isn't it? Because you never know what goes through the minds of the members that the commonly referred to as jurors when they hear something like that.

Speaker 4: 12:53 But this jury in the Gallagher case struck me as a particularly good jury. That is, they were officers and I believe they're, there may have been an enlisted person as well, but they had all been, or almost all had been in combat. And so they are intelligent enough, mature enough, experienced enough to understand the personality that's making these statements into, give it no weight, no public's been very attentive to this case from the president on down apparently. Do you think that's going to lead to any changes in the way that war crimes allegations are investigated or prosecuted?

Speaker 6: 13:26 I hope not because what happens in this aftermath is that legislators just do crazy things and they set up new processes, perhaps a new offense, uh, and maybe, God forbid they even decide that they should be tried by civilian courts. There is jurisdiction. I don't think we're going to go there, but this is a dangerous time. Uh, the process work on, we sitting on the outside all have opinions, but we were not in that jury room. But Gary, if members, so the

Speaker 4: 14:03 u s military get the reputation of being able to commit heinous acts, war crimes with no consequences or virtually no consequences, what does that do to our international standing and to morale within the services? We'll obviously, that's not a good thing for our international standing. But as for morale and our services, I think that this prosecution may be a cautionary tale in that it will remind seals and other, shall we say, secret operators, that they too are subject to the laws of the military jurisdiction. It may remind a NCIA this, that they should put more experienced investigators on war crimes cases, and it should remind judge advocates who are prosecuting that they're going to have to stand up to civilians, civilians who know their way around the UCM J and that they had better get their act together and put on a credible case. So I think it's not an entirely bad outcome. I have to leave it there. I want to thank my guest, David bronze. He is a retired brigadier general with the U S Marine Corps and Gary Solis, who is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant and a former military judge. He teaches law at Georgetown. I want to thank you gentlemen. Thank you both.

Speaker 5: 15:30 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.