Judge rules Navy SEAL war crimes trial will proceed despite allegations of unlawful command influence

Author:
Publish date:
A Navy SEAL Is Accused Of Committing War Crimes In Iraq

A Navy SEAL Is Accused Of Committing War Crimes In Iraq

The war crimes charges against a San Diego-based Navy SEAL will stand, a Navy judge ruled Friday.

Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward R. Gallagher is facing charges that he killed a wounded teenage ISIS fighter brought to the SEAL's Mosul, Iraq compound for medical treatment in 2017. Gallagher also is accused of shooting at civilians, posing for photos with a corpse and holding his reenlistment ceremony next to the body, according to court documents and prosecutor statements.

Gallagher has denied all the charges and pleaded not guilty.

Thursday the judge, Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh, moved the trial date from June 10 to June 17 at defense lawyers' request.

The judge also said that government prosecutors had violated Gallagher's rights by trying to electronically track emails sent to his defense attorneys.

Rugh said that the tracking had placed an "intolerable strain" on the public's perception of the military justice system. He added that the email intrusions and news coverage of the case that included excerpts of the court's rulings constituted "apparent unlawful command influence."

Unlawful command influence occurs when a military commander uses their authority to influence the outcome of a military legal proceeding.

Image placeholder title

Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward R. Gallagher
(Courtesy photo)

As remedies, Rugh ruled that if Gallagher is convicted of the charges, he will not have to face life without parole.

Also, Rugh gave the defense additional rights to challenge potential jurors. Rugh gave the defense two more "peremptory challenges" than the one they would normally have.

The prosecution has suffered other setbacks. On Monday the judge removed the lead prosecutor, Cmdr. Chris Czaplak, from the case after defense attorneys accused him of misconduct for allegedly "spying" on them via email.

Czaplak and NCIS hid a tracking link in emails sent to defense lawyers and a reporter that enabled them to see when the emails were read or transferred. Navy prosecutors said the link, which they called an "audit tool," did not meet the legal threshold of a wire tap and so did not require a search warrant.

Rugh said he removed Czaplak because his need to defend himself against the misconduct charge constitutes a conflict of interest in the criminal case.

———

©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

SEE ALSO: 3 Members Of Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher's Defense Team Have Close Ties To Trump