REGION — A key witness testifying today in the court martial of a highly decorated Navy SEAL accused of murdering a teenage ISIS fighter in 2017 said that it was him, not the defendant, who committed the killing.
First Class Petty Officer Corey Scott testified that he suffocated the wounded ISIS fighter after Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher stabbed the teen in the neck.
Scott said he held down the boy’s breathing tube because he did not want him to suffer or be tortured by Iraqis.
Prosecutors allege that Scott is lying to protect Gallagher, who faces life in prison if convicted of killing the teen, as well as shooting two civilians, firing on numerous others and threatening fellow members of the elite force to prevent them from reporting him.
Another officer in Gallagher’s platoon, Craig Miller, testified Wednesday that in May 2017, he saw Gallagher fatally stab the teen, who prosecutors estimate was 15 years old.
Gallagher, 40, is also accused of posing with the teen’s body in photographs, while he and other SEALs held a reenlistment ceremony while standing over the corpse.
Gallagher allegedly texted the photos to fellow SEALs.
“Good story behind this one. Got him with my hunting knife,” one of the accompanying text messages read, according to Lt. Brian John, one of the prosecutors in the case.
Later that night, a meeting was convened, in which some of the other SEALs expressed reservations over what happened, John said in his opening statement.
According to John, Gallagher’s response was: “I thought everyone would be cool with it. Next time it happens, I’ll do it somewhere where you can’t see.”
Gallagher is also accused of shooting an elderly man and a young girl on separate occasions later that summer, as the civilians were walking along the Tigris River. The prosecutor described what he alleged was Gallagher’s propensity for firing on civilians, which led other snipers to begin firing warning shots “to protect civilians from their own chief.”
Gallagher’s defense team says the allegations come from a group of disgruntled subordinates who felt their platoon commander was too tough on them.
His attorney, Timothy Parlatore, said in his opening statement that Gallagher’s subordinates conspired against him because Gallagher brought them closer to combat than they wanted and they “didn’t want to be exposed to enemy fire.”
Parlatore said jurors would see text messages between the young SEALs, in which they talked about getting their stories straight, with some of the messages sent as soon as a few weeks before the trial began.
John told the jury made up of five Marines and two Navy members that once stories of Gallagher’s conduct began to swirl, he began a campaign to intimidate and discredit his platoon mates, posting their names on social media, labeling them “cowards in combat” and actively attempting to sabotage their opportunities for career advancement.
The court martial has been dogged by allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, with the trial judge finding that Navy prosecutors used tracking software to spy on the defense team’s email accounts.
The judge, Capt. Aaron Rugh, removed Cmdr. Chris Czaplak from the case just before the trial was set to begin at Naval Base San Diego, ruling the prosecution sent emails to the defense and a Navy Times reporter that were embedded with code that would track the recipients’ email activity.
The judge also ordered that Gallagher be released from custody due to violations of his Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights and reduced the maximum possible sentence of life without parole to life with the possibility of parole.
Gallagher’s defense team unsuccessfully sought to have the case thrown out following the email allegations.
Gallagher — a 19-year Navy veteran — has received public support from President Donald Trump, who commented in a social media post earlier this year that Gallagher should be moved to less restrictive confinement and has hinted at pardoning him.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, has also advocated pardoning Gallagher and stated publicly that he also posed with an enemy combatant’s corpse during his time in the Marines.