Despite a lull in court-martial proceedings against Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher for allegedly stabbing to death an Islamic State prisoner, the case has expanded to target members of SEAL Team 6.
Search warrant documents and email messages from Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents leaked to Navy Times reveal the seizure of cell phones and electronic communications beginning in early February, allegedly to prove that Gallagher urged fellow SEALs at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group — or DEVGRU — to obstruct justice or retaliate against junior sailors who ratted him out for war crimes.
The documents and emails appear to support a theory put forward by Gallagher’s defense attorneys that military prosecutors are going after what they call a “Mean Girls" clique of special operators.
They suspect prosecutors are trying to prove collusion between Gallagher and other SEAL leaders at California’s Naval Base Coronado and members of the color-coded DEVGRU squadrons in Virginia.
Investigators appeared to want to perform forensic examinations of the phones or otherwise track the communications to see if SEAL Team 7′s Gallagher conversed with peers at DEVGRU about retaliating against witnesses in the NCIS probe.
These sorts of search warrants aren’t unusual. Prosecutors often will ask agents to get Command Authorization for Search and Seizure — or CASS — to obtain the evidence that’s then analyzed using Cellebrite technology or other software.
Other than requesting that Navy Times not reveal the names of the CASS targets, Navy Region Southwest officials declined comment.
The setbacks for the prosecution set the stage for a dramatic Feb. 15 showdown inside a Naval Base San Diego courtroom.
Reached by telephone, Phillip Stackhouse, one of Gallagher’s civilian defense attorneys, told Navy Times that he knew investigators were trying to seize cell phones but he didn’t know whose devices were taken.
Gallagher’s trial initially was slated to begin on Feb. 19, but the military judge hearing his case postponed it to May 28 after Stackhouse and his civilian co-counsel, Colby Vokey, complained six days earlier that prosecutors had sprung reams of evidence on them that they hadn’t had time to analyze.
Gallagher has pleaded not guilty to war crimes charges stemming from a deployment to Iraq nearly two years ago.
Prosecutors contend that he murdered the teenage ISIS detainee on May 3, 2017, near the Iraqi city of Mosul before posing with the corpse during a macabre re-enlistment ceremony.
They also allege he gunned down unwitting civilians with his sniper rifle, bragged about racking up kills and threatened to intimidate and publicly out SEALs who complained to superiors and investigators about him.
A large dossier of investigative and legal files provided to Navy Times revealed Friday that several SEALs have sought both testimonial and transactional immunity from future prosecution in exchange for their testimony against a chief petty officer.
Gallagher has long proclaimed his innocence and claims authorities have held him in inhumane conditions at Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego since his Sept. 11 arrest at Camp Pendleton, where he was receiving treatment as a wounded warrior for traumatic brain injury.
“Chief Gallagher has proclaimed his innocence and demanded speedy trial since the day he was unjustly thrown into pretrial confinement,” Stackhouse told Navy Times. “While this case has been continued once due to significant evidence being delivered on essentially the eve of trial, Chief Gallagher has never wavered in his desire to get to trial as soon as possible.”
When he goes to court, however, he won’t be defended by Vokey, a highly respected attorney with special expertise defending personnel charged with war crimes.
He filed paperwork with the military court in San Diego to withdraw from the case in early March.
Reached by Navy Times, Vokey declined comment.
“Given schedules and obligations and other circumstances, Chief Gallagher has released Colby Vokey and added Navy veteran Timothy Parlatore, a respected trial lawyer with experience in military justice matters, to the team,” said Stackhouse.
“The trial team is continuing the march to trial in May 2019 and Chief Gallagher is eager to finally have his day in court, face his accusers and clear his name.”
Prosecutors also have charged Gallagher’s SEAL platoon leader, Lt. Jacob X. “Jake” Portier, for allegedly trying to conceal his chief’s crimes.
Portier’s civilian defense attorney, Jeremiah J. Sullivan III, has pushed to get his trial started while Gallagher’s lags. Sullivan hopes the prosecution’s snooping into DEVGRU won’t delay what he predicts will be an exoneration for Portier.
To Sullivan, the prosecution of Portier is misguided because there’s no evidence of a cover up, either by the SEAL platoon leader or any of his superiors in Coronado. He suspects that because investigators failed by going up the chain of command they’re going to veer sideways into DEVGRU with the search warrants.
“They’ve expanded the scope of their investigations to try to prove their theory of collusion but the collusion simply doesn’t exist,” said Sullivan.