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Judge removes lead prosecutor in case against Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher
Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh has removed the lead prosecutor in the war crimes trial against Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher days after he said the government had violated Gallagher's right to a fair trial.
Navy Cmdr. Chris Czaplak was dismissed from the prosecution team on Monday, threatening to further derail the government's case against Gallagher, who has been accused of murdering a wounded and unarmed ISIS fighter and indiscriminately firing at innocent civilians during the 2017 Battle of Mosul.
The removal of Czaplak came in response to a defense motion last month seeking the ouster of the prosecution team. Defense attorneys sought relief after it was learned that an NCIS investigation into media leaks in the case had involved Czaplak sending emails to Gallagher's attorneys and a Navy Times reporter without obtaining a warrant. The emails had some kind of tracking software hidden in Czaplak's signature block.
"The court concludes that the matter related to Cmdr. Czaplak's participation in the NCIS operation may reasonably create a conflict requiring his withdrawal under due process," Rugh said in his Monday ruling.
"While it is not within the purview of this court to conclude whether the actions of a trial counsel violated the rules of professional responsibility, the court must determine whether the fear of or potential danger of a professional responsibility complaint and follow up investigation is sufficient to create such a conflict."
Rugh added: "Conceding that this area remains both nuanced and unresolved under the ethical rules, still the court concludes that the danger of investigation is sufficiently real that any trial counsel so situated might be motivated by factors unrelated to his position as trial counsel."
Rugh granted the defense motion to have Czaplak removed, but declined to remove Marine Lt. Conor McMahon, who was also on the prosecution team. However, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Monday that McMahon had already been directed off the case by his unit last week.
"Capt McMahon has been directed off of the case and this decision was made due to no adverse conduct of his own," a Marine spokesman told the Union-Tribune.
"The Navy is complying with the judge's order," Brian O'Rourke, a Navy spokesman, told Task & Purpose. "The senior trial counsel will be replaced by a qualified Navy attorney. Chief Petty Officer Gallagher is entitled to a fair trial and the Nav is committed to upholding that principle."
The Monday ruling is the latest in a string of wins for Gallagher's defense team: In addition to the judge ruling that the SEAL Chief's constitutional rights were violated by the email tracking issue, he also ordered Gallagher released from pretrial confinement last week.
Czaplak is also the lead prosecutor in a related case against Navy Lt. Jacob Portier, Gallagher's platoon leader. It was not clear on Monday whether he would be dismissed from that case, which is being overseen by a different judge.
The trial is still scheduled to begin on June 10, O'Rourke said.
A U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicle burst into flames on the side of a Polish roadway on Saturday, the Army confirmed on Monday.
A memo circulating over the weekend warning of a "possible imminent attack" against U.S. soldiers in Germany was investigated by Army officials, who found there to not be a serious threat after all.
The U.S. Navy will name its fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier after Doris Miller, an iconic World War II sailor recognized for his heroism during the Pearl Harbor attack, according to reports in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and U.S. Naval Institute News.
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly is expected to announce the naming of CVN-81 during a ceremony on Monday in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, according to USNI. Two of Miller's nieces are expected to be there, according to the Star-Advertiser.
Comedian Jon Stewart has joined forces with veterans groups to make sure service members who have been sickened by toxins from burn pits get the medical care they need, according to the Military Officers Association of America.
"Quite frankly, this is not just about burn pits — it's about the way we go to war as a country," Stewart said during his Jan. 17 visit to Washington, D.C. "We always have money to make war. We need to always have money to take care of what happens to people who are selfless enough, patriotic enough, to wage those wars on our behalf."
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
Editor's Note: A version of this article originally appeared on the blog of Angry Staff Officer
This morning, the Virginia state capitol in Richmond saw dozens of armed men gathering to demonstrate their support for the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution – the right to bear arms. These men were not merely bearing arms, however; they were fully accoutered in the trappings of what one would call a paramilitary group: helmets, vests, ammunition pouches, camouflage clothing, and other "tactical" necessities, the majority of which are neither tactical nor necessary. Their weapons, too, are bedecked with all sorts of accessories, and are also in the paramilitary lane. Rather than carry rifles or shotguns that one would use for hunting, they instead carry semi-automatic "military grade" weapons, to merely prove that they can.
This is not an uncommon sight in America. Nor has it ever been. Armed groups of angry men have a long and uncomfortable history in the United States. On very rare occasions, these irregulars have done some good against corrupt, power-hungry, and abusive county governments. For the most part, however, they bode no good.