With a Saturday morning Twitter message, President Donald J. Trump ordered the Navy to modify the detention of Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher, who is behind bars awaiting a court-martial trial in San Diego for allegedly stabbing to death an Islamic State prisoner.
“In honor of his past service to our Country, Navy Seal
#EddieGallagher will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court," Trump tweeted. “Process should move quickly!”
In his message, the president nodded to the Fox News Network and U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, a South Carolina Republican who has led the fight alongside embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter, R- Calif., to free Gallagher.
Trump stopped short of ending Gallagher’s prosecution, something Hunter and other supporters have urged the president to do.
Norman had taken to Twitter on Friday to reveal he had telephoned Trump about Gallagher’s imprisonment. In his message, Norman thanked the president for deciding to move Gallagher “to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court.”
Gallagher, 39, was arrested on Sept. 11 while receiving medical care at Camp Pendleton and has been held in San Diego’s Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar “with sex offenders, rapists and pedophiles,” the lawmakers blasted during a Capitol Hill rally on Thursday.
Gallagher has pleaded not guilty to war crimes charges stemming from a deployment to Iraq nearly two years ago.
Military prosecutors contend that he murdered an unarmed and incapacitated teenage ISIS detainee receiving medical aid on May 3, 2017, near the Iraqi city of Mosul before later posing with the corpse during a macabre re-enlistment ceremony.
They also allege Gallagher gunned down unwitting civilians with his sniper rifle, bragged about racking up the kills and threatened to intimidate and publicly out fellow members of SEAL Team 7 who complained to superiors and investigators about him.
Officials also charged his platoon leader, Lt. Jacob X. “Jake” Portier, for purportedly trying to conceal his chief’s crimes.
Unlike Gallagher, however, Portier has remained free during the pretrial phase of the proceedings.
Like Gallagher, Portier also has vowed to clear his name at trial.
It remains unclear what Navy leaders will do to modify Gallagher’s incarceration or which command will handle the changes.
Because of the serious nature of his alleged crimes and claims that Gallagher sought to intimidate SEAL witnesses and obstruct justice, he was placed in the brig by California-based SEAL Group 1 before he was arraigned.
But Group 1 turned over Gallagher’s case to San Diego’s Navy Region Southwest after his court-martial trial was greenlighted by Rear Adm. Yancy B."Lurch" Lindsey, the region’s former commander, following a legal review of the SEAL’s two-day Article 32 hearing in November.
Officials have not responded to questions about what the president’s order means for Gallagher and even the SEAL’s legal team indicated they’re still learning what it all means.
But it could mean Gallagher rejoining his family in Florida, where the 19-year Navy veteran planned to retire before his arrest and detention in California.
“The timeline is still being worked out and the command is still deciding the reduced moral restrictions that will be placed on Eddie,” wrote one of his civilian attorneys, and Phillip Stackhouse, in a message to Navy Times.
"Typically these moral restrictions will include reporting in-person or reporting by telephone one’s whereabouts for the day and then what are called ‘protective orders’ being issued that direct one from contacting another (witness or co-defendant).
"So, for example in Eddie’s case, there might be a protective order that informs him to have no contact with potentially adverse witnesses against him.
“While I don’t know the timelines affirmatively, the confinement facility is staffed 24 hours per day and so is Eddie’s command. One would hope that when a directive has been issued by the president it would happen quickly. So our anticipating is that it will happen today or tomorrow," Stackhouse said.
If the White House approves, the military also could keep Gallagher in the barracks at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, the home of the brig but also a sprawling base located between his medical appointments at Camp Pendleton and the courthouse in San Diego.
It remains unclear how much detail Trump will dictate to the Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer about Gallagher’s modified confinement. At issue could be how often Gallagher checks in with base personnel and whether he’s provided access to telephone and internet communications.
It’s highly unlikely that Gallagher will be confined at Naval Base Coronado, home to Group 1, because so many of the potential witnesses against him are assigned to commands there.
Gallagher’s court-martial at Naval Base San Diego initially was slated for Feb. 19, but the military judge hearing his case postponed it to May 28 following concerns expressed by the defense team that they lacked enough time to analyze reams of evidence compiled by investigators.
Those files appear to be growing. During the latest legal lull, military investigators expanded their probe into Gallagher’s alleged misconduct involving obstruction of justice.
Search warrant filings, Naval Criminal Investigative Service emails and other records recently leaked to Navy Times reveal that in early February they began seizing cellphones and data from fellow SEALs at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group — or DEVGRU.
They appear to be looking for evidence that Gallagher urged a “Mean Girls” clique of SEALs there to help him avoid justice and retaliate against junior sailors who ratted him out for the alleged war crimes.
UPDATE: Gallagher was released from the brig on Saturday evening in San Diego. For the time being, he remains confined to the base at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, with conditions set on what he’s allowed to do in the weeks before his trial begins, according to this attorney Phil Stackhouse.