SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – An Iraqi general and a U.S. Marine testifying in the murder trial of a U.S. Navy SEAL said on Thursday they never saw the platoon leader stab a wounded detainee in the neck, disputing the central allegation in the prosecution's war crimes case.
A sworn deposition of Major General Abbas al-Jubouri, videotaped in San Diego earlier this month, was played for the seven-member jury on the second day of defense testimony in the court-martial of Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher.
Contrary to prior testimony that Gallagher, or a medic on his team, had acted deliberately to cause the death of a helpless Islamic State fighter in their custody, Jubouri said the Navy SEALs did all they could to save the teenager's life.
“They support him. They did their best to get him to survive,” Jubouri testified in broken English.
His account was echoed by Marine Staff Sergeant Giorgio Kirylo, who was the U.S. intelligence officer for Gallagher's platoon and took the witness stand after the presentation of Jubouri's testimony.
Kirylo said he was also present during the entire time the captured Iraqi fighter was alive at the U.S. platoon's outpost and that the detainee appeared to have died from grave combat wounds, not from any mistreatment.
Gallagher, 39, a decorated career combat veteran, is charged with committing premeditated murder of the Iraqi prisoner, brought to his unit for medical treatment, by repeatedly stabbing the youth in the neck with a custom-made knife.
He is also charged with attempted murder in the wounding of two civilians – a school girl and an elderly man – shot from a sniper's perch, as well as with obstruction of justice and other offenses. Those include unlawfully posing for photos with the dead captive's corpse.
Gallagher could face life in prison if convicted.
He has denied all charges and says he is wrongly accused. The thrust of his defense has been that fellow SEAL team members testifying against him under grants of immunity are disgruntled subordinates fabricating the allegations to force him from the Navy.
The Navy opened its investigation in September 2018, about a year after Gallagher and his platoon had returned from Iraq.
The case has drawn the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump, who ordered Gallaghermoved from pre-trial detention in a military brig to confinement at a Navy base months ago.
The presiding judge later released him from custody in a rebuke to prosecutors for conduct the judge said infringed on Gallagher's right to a fair trial.
In another setback to the prosecution's case last week, a Navy SEAL medic testifying for prosecutors asserted it was he, not Gallagher, who caused the death of the Iraqi detainee by blocking the youth's breathing tube in what he described as a mercy killing.
Several SEAL team members testified they saw Gallagher deliver what appeared to be fatal stab wounds to the prisoner's neck, and prosecutors accused the medic of changing his story on the witness stand.
Kirylo testified the Iraqi detainee was a potentially valuable intelligence asset as the first Islamic State fighter captured alive in a battle to retake part of Mosul. He said Gallagher went to work with two medics trying to save his life but it became clear their efforts were futile.
Jubouri also said the detainee, who had given his age as 17, “was at the last moment of life.”
Asked under cross-examination what he would have done had he noticed the Navy SEALs do anything untoward in treating the captive, Jubouri replied: “Any mistake, I would stop him. I would be very upset.”
Kirylo testified he did not particularly like Gallagher personally but nevertheless called him an innocent man. He also admitted posing with several Navy SEALs for “trophy” pictures with the body of the captured Islamic State fighter.
Closing arguments in the case were expected to begin next week.
(Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Grant McCool and Paul Tait)