Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher was arraigned Friday morning at Naval Base San Diego on a long list of criminal charges, including the premeditated murder of a wounded Islamic State prisoner of war.
At the same time, his case drew the attention from an unlikely lawmaker, Rep. Duncan Hunter — a Marine combat veteran who himself is facing a long list of federal criminal charges — who urged President Donald Trump to personally intervene to end the SEAL’s prosecution.
Military prosecutors contend that Gallagher, 39, is a callous murderer who stabbed to death the defenseless teenage detainee on May 3, 2017, near the Iraqi city of Mosul and also gunned down unwitting civilians with his sniper rifle, bragged about racking up kills and threatened to intimidate and publicly out SEAL buddies who complained to superiors and investigators about him.
Investigative files leaked to Navy Times revealed authorities probing allegations that Gallagher mutilated the teenage prisoner’s dead body, posed with the corpse during a re-enlistment ceremony and attempted to cover up the alleged crimes when he returned to California.
But the same dossier uncovered a Naval Criminal Investigative Service interview of a pair of high-ranking Iraqi officers present during the unnamed teenager’s death.
They insisted “Chief Ed” committed no crimes and that the boy died from battlefield wounds inflicted by Iraqi government forces.
According to the files, NCIS also failed to locate and exhume the alleged victim’s body for an autopsy.
On Friday, prosecutors handed over 1,700 pages of documents, including text messages they say show Gallagher trying to intimidate witnesses, The Associated Press reported.
One of the SEAL’s attorneys, Phil Stackhouse, dismissed them as "hearsay and double hearsay statements” ginned up by disgruntled platoon members who wanted to depose a demanding enlisted leader.
Attorneys representing Gallagher, a married father and 19-year Navy veteran who was prepping for retirement before his indictment, have said he’s the victim of a smear campaign by platoon malcontents and have vowed to clear his name.
A military judge said that his court-martial trial will commence between Feb. 19 and March 1, with at least a third of his panel composed of enlisted personnel.
A former member of the House Armed Services Committee who represents a large chunk of San Diego County, Republican Hunter doesn’t want it to get that far.
In a statement emailed to Navy Times on Friday, Hunter said that he’d personally reviewed Gallagher’s case and concluded that the military’s prosecution suffered from “inconsistent testimony” by other SEALs and a lack of physical evidence tying him to the detainee’s death.
Hunter accused military prosecutors of “bias against our warfighters” and called the Navy’s criminal justice system “political.”
He urged Trump “to personally review and dismiss this case, taking an American hero out of a prison cell and back on the front lines where he belongs.”
Hunter was an early and avid supporter of Trump and had been rumored for a high post in his administration that never materialized.
Gallagher has been confined at the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego since his arrest on Sept. 11 at Camp Pendleton, where he was receiving treatment for a traumatic brain injury incurred in combat overseas.
Authorities said Friday that a decision will be made next week on whether Gallagher will be released from the brig pending trial.
Hunter said that he received reports that the 19-year veteran lacks access to quality medical care, mental health services and legal representation but will continue to probe those allegations.
“If true, it is completely unacceptable and, without hesitation, I will introduce legislation to ensure this situation is not repeated,” Hunter said in his prepared statement. “South American criminal illegal aliens are provided with better access to legal representation than our nation’s elite warriors because bureaucratic lawyers in the Navy justice system see this situation as an opportunity to make their name and advance their career.”
Navy officials did not return messages seeking comment.
On Aug. 23, both Hunter and his wife, Margaret, pleaded not guilty to a raft of federal public corruption charges, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, falsification of reds and misusing campaign funds.
Prosecutors say that the Hunters converted more than $250,000 of the campaign treasure chest into a slush fund to patch up their precarious personal finances and fuel a lavish lifestyle that included European vacations, pricey restaurant feasts, Pittsburgh Steelers tickets, Apple merchandise and golf attire later marked as “balls for the wounded warriors” to fool federal election watchdogs.
The Hunters have fought back, claiming the indictments are politically motivated.
Despite his legal woes, on Nov. 6 Hunter vanquished Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar for California’s 50th congressional district seat.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.