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Prosecutors violated fair trial rights of SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher, Judge says
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The military judge presiding over the court-martial of a U.S. Navy SEAL charged with war crimes said on Friday prosecutors who electronically tracked email communications of defense lawyers without a warrant violated the accused's right to a fair trial.
The finding came near the end of a two-day hearing that wrapped up just 10 days before Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher is due to stand trial in a case that has drawn the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Gallagher is charged with murdering a helpless, wounded Islamic State fighter in his custody, and with two counts of attempted murder in the wounding of two unarmed civilians, a schoolgirl and elderly man, shot from a sniper's perch.
The charges stem from Gallagher's deployment as a platoon leader to Iraq's northern city of Mosul, in 2017.
He has pleaded not guilty to those and other charges, including obstructing justice. If convicted, the decorated career combat veteran could face life in prison.
Gallagher says he was wrongly accused and that fellow SEAL team members testifying against him, several under grants of immunity, are disgruntled subordinates who fabricated allegations to force him from command.
His defense team has filed motions seeking either to dismiss the charges altogether, or remove the lead prosecutor from the case, on grounds of alleged misconduct by the prosecutor and agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).
The defense specifically has accused Navy lawyers of conducting illegal surveillance of defense attorneys and news media using electronic tracking software secretly embedded in emails sent to the defense.
In court, prosecutors have said the email "auditing tools" they used were designed merely to detect the flow of emails without revealing their content, and were aimed at pinpointing the source of leaks from case files sealed by the judge.
The judge, Navy Captain Aaron Rugh, adjourned the hearing without ruling yet on the defense motions. But Rugh said he had already found the prosecution's conduct amounted to a violation of the defendant's Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial under the U.S. constitution.
Even if the judge refuses to dismiss the case, removing the lead prosecutor, Navy Commander Christopher Czaplak, would probably result in a lengthy delay.
A ruling on the motions could come any time, and momentum seemed to be moving the favor of the defense.
At the end of Thursday's proceedings, the judge unexpectedly ordered Gallagher released from base confinement at a nearby military hospital center in San Diego while he awaits trial.
He was transferred there from a military brig at a Marine Corps air station in California in March at the direction of Trump, who cited Gallagher's "past service to our country."
Trump last Friday said he was considering pardons for a number of service members accused of war crimes, and Gallagher's case is widely believed to be one of the cases under review.
(Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles)
This article originally appeared on Military.com.
Inside Forward Operating Base Oqab in Kabul, Afghanistan stands a wall painted with a mural of an airman kneeling before a battlefield cross. Beneath it, a black gravestone bookended with flowers and dangling dog tags displays the names of eight U.S. airmen and an American contractor killed in a horrific insider attack at Kabul International Airport in 2011.
It's one of a number of such memorials ranging from plaques, murals and concrete T-walls scattered across Afghanistan. For the last eight years, those tributes have been proof to the families of the fallen that their loved ones have not been forgotten. But with a final U.S. pullout from Afghanistan possibly imminent, those families fear the combat-zone memorials may be lost for good.
After a string of high profile incidents, the commander overseeing the Navy SEALs released an all hands memo stating that the elite Naval Special Warfare community has a discipline problem, and pinned the blame on those who place loyalty to their teammates over the Navy and the nation they serve.
A group of vets are raising money to pay for a medal the Iraqi government awarded them, but never delivered
In June 2011 Iraq's defense minister announced that U.S. troops who had deployed to the country would receive the Iraq Commitment Medal in recognition of their service. Eight years later, millions of qualified veterans have yet to receive it.
The reason: The Iraqi government has so far failed to provide the medals to the Department of Defense for approval and distribution.
A small group of veterans hopes to change that.
For a cool $8.5 million, you could be the proud owner of a "fully functioning" F-16 A/B Fighting Falcon fighter jet that a South Florida company acquired from Jordan.
The combat aircraft, which can hit a top speed of 1,357 mph at 40,000 feet, isn't showroom new — it was built in 1980. But it still has a max range of 2,400 miles and an initial climb rate of 62,000 feet per minute and remains militarized, according to The Drive, an automotive website that also covers defense topics, WBDO News 96.5 reported Wednesday.