A jury found decorated Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher not guilty of premediated murder of an injured and captured ISIS fighter he was accused of stabbing. He was, however, found guilty of taking a selfie with the corpse.
Gallagher was accused of committing a series of war crimes during his stint in Iraq, including shooting up civilians and stabbing an injured teenage Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS) fighter with his knife in 2017. He was acquitted of all but one charge, which carries a maximum sentence of four months he has already served.
The officer was found not guilty of six criminal counts, including murder, firing his weapon with an intent to endanger a human life, retaliating against his subordinates who reported his alleged abuses, as well as attempted murders of three civilians, including a young girl, and obstruction of justice. The only charge that he will be awaiting sentencing for is posing for a photo with a lifeless body of the teen.
Until last month, the high-profile case was headed towards a guilty verdict, as evidence against Gallagher appeared to be overwhelming. He had shared photos of himself with the teen’s corpse and bragged about “getting” the injured POW with his “hunting knife” in text messages with fellow servicemen.
However, the late June testimony of a Navy medic who said he was in the same room with Gallagher when the fighter was stabbed, upended the trial. The medic said that while Gallagher did injure the captive, he did not kill him. The medic said that he himself approached the prisoner after the stabbing and suffocated him out of mercy, citing abuse and torture the injured militant might have been subjected to after being handed over to the Iraqis.
The prosecutors did not take the startling confession at face value. Lieutenant Brian John, the prosecutor in the case, argued that the medic – who had just been granted testimonial immunity – might have lied to shield Gallagher from persecution.
Former SEAL platoon members that claimed to have witnessed the killing told the court that they saw Gallagher knifing the captive, who was reportedly 15 years old. Gallagher was also accused of conducting a re-enlistment ceremony next to the remains and flying a drone over them.
Before eventually reporting their commander in March 2018, Gallagher’s platoon members said they had gone to great lengths to stop his alleged carnage of civilians, reportedly tampering with Gallagher’s rifle so he could not shoot them at will.
The defense rejected the allegations, dismissing the witnesses’ accounts as those of disgruntled employees.
The closing argument by Commander Jeff Pietrzyk on Monday apparently did not sway the jury. Addressing the courtroom, Pietrzyk argued that, while the captured terrorist might have done the same to Gallagher if he had the chance, it does not give a Navy SEAL the right to behave like an ISIS militant.
“We’re not ISIS. When we capture someone and they’re out of the fight, that’s it. That’s where the line is drawn,” the prosecutor said.