Judge removes lead prosecutor in case against Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher

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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.

Ryan Kules

Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.

On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.

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(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.

Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.

Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.

Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.

"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."

While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.

"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."

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(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.

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(Courtesy of Roman Sabal)

A deported Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to come back to the U.S. for more than a decade was denied entry to the country Monday morning when he asked to be let in for a scheduled citizenship interview.

Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.

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Jeff Schogol

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.

Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.

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