NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — An enlisted Navy SEAL sniper testified on Wednesday that Chief Eddie Gallagher told his platoon prior to their deployment that if they ever captured a wounded fighter, their medics knew “what to do to nurse them to death.”
In early morning testimony, former Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dylan Dille told a packed courtroom that he had heard the phrase during unit training before the men of SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon deployed to Mosul, Iraq in 2017.
Dille spoke at length about his experiences as a sniper in support of Iraqi security forces during clearing operations, and said he believed Gallagher had shot at innocent civilians on multiple occasions.
“We were made less effective as a mission,” Dille said. “Because civilians were being killed by our chief.”
Gallagher, a veteran SEAL, is accused of stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter and firing on civilians in Iraq. He has pleaded not guilty.
Dille, now a civilian and wearing a dark suit and blue tie in court, first joined the Navy in 2010 and checked into SEAL Team 7 in 2012, where he spent his entire operational time. He saw three deployments, including Afghanistan, Guam, and the 2017 Iraq deployment.
Dille said his initial impression of Gallagher, who he first met during his initial SEAL training, was that he was “a strong operator” he was excited to work with. That changed after they got overseas to Iraq.
Under direct questioning by prosecutors, Dille — who was not testifying under immunity — talked through what he knew of the alleged murder of an ISIS prisoner that Iraqi forces had brought to the SEAL compound. While serving forward with the Iraqi Emergency Response Division during clearing operations, Dille said he heard the platoon commander, Lt. Jake Portier, say over the radio that there was a wounded Iraqi ERD member.
Then, he quoted Portier as saying, “Nevermind, T.C. [Byrne, another SEAL]. Don't worry about it. It's just an ISIS guy.” Gallagher then said over the radio, “No one touch him, he's mine,” Dille testified.
Once back at the SEAL compound, the wounded fighter was pulled from the truck and was speaking to the Iraqis in Arabic. He was wounded in the leg but Dille described it as “minor.”
“What struck me is he didn't look like a grizzled ISIS fighter,” Dille said, adding that he left the scene a short time later to pull security for the compound. Dille told jurors he believed the ISIS fighter was 12 years old.
Minutes later, prosecutors allege that Gallagher stabbed the wounded ISIS fighter and then later, carried out his reenlistment ceremony close to the body. Group photos taken afterward show members of the SEAL platoon posing behind the deceased fighter.
Dille said he did not witness the alleged stabbing and did not participate in photos with the body, he said, “because it was unprofessional.” However, Dille testified that some SEALs felt uncomfortable after the days events, and he quoted Gallagher as telling them, “this was just an ISIS dirtbag. Next time we get a prisoner … it will be out of sight, out of mind.”
Prosecutors largely focused on Dille's recounting of Gallagher allegedly firing on innocent civilians from a sniper tower.
On Father's Day 2017, Dille said, he and other SEALs were set up in a sniper position to the south, while Gallagher and others were set up close by in a similar position to the north. Both buildings shared a field of fire aiming their rifles across the Tigris river, where they could offer sniper support to Iraqi troops.
Satellite imagery of the area of operations for SEALs in May 2017. SEAL sniper positions were south of the river near the main road.Photo: Screenshot/Google Maps
While Dille scanned for targets through his scope, he said he saw two elderly men standing on a corner near a bridge. Then a shot rang out. “One of the old men was hit. I could tell right away he was hit,” he said.
Dille said the man had no weapon and was “just standing there.” He also testified that the SEALs were getting live signals intelligence and electronic warfare aircraft updates that helped with targeting, but said none of those indicators were present.
“I watched the vapor trail strike him,” Dille said, adding that the man went down and struggled to his feet, before running behind a barrier out of view. He said he did not recall exactly what was said over the radio but quoted Gallagher as saying something like, “he thought he missed.”
The SEAL sniper also testified that Gallagher, in another incident, had fired on two women in traditional garb as they were walking along the river when “Chief Gallagher took a shot” he thought at the time was meant to warn them. But then he took multiple shots as they fled, Dille said.
Dille also testified that Gallagher had fired into a crowd of civilians in a separate incident.
During this incident, he said, Dille was stationed in the same building as Gallagher. While Gallagher fired out of a spider hole in an adjacent room, Dille was shooting from the bathroom just around the corner. After he heard multiple shots, Dille said he peeked around the corner to see if he could support Gallagher.
File photo: Navy SEALs in Mosul (Photo: CNN/screenshot)
“It was a crowd of civilians,” he said that Gallagher was shooting at.
During his cross examination, defense attorney Tim Parlatore took issue with Dille's characterization of the ISIS fighter's age and whether he had directly witnessed Gallagher shooting at civilians. He also jumped on testimony that Dille had apparently not previously told to Navy investigators.
“The very first time you said vapor trails was last week,” Parlatore said.
Indeed, Dille testified he did not see Gallagher pull the trigger when allegedly firing into a crowd, at an old man, or the two women. He had only observed signs it had taken place, such as vapor trails and suppressed gunshots from who he presumed was Gallagher, who was not alone in the tower.
Typically, sniper teams in the towers consisted of four personnel.
When asked whether he had told other SEALs to make up stories about Gallagher committing war crimes or that he text messaged them to say their stories needed to be “water tight,” Dille said he had never made up any story. “The truth is water tight,” he said.
Why did you say 12? Parlatore asked of Dille's estimation of the fighter's age. After some back-and-forth, Dille said that 12 fell “in the range of what I thought it was,” which he indicated was between 12 and 15 years old. NCIS investigators believed the fighter was about 15, according to court documents.
Also revealed on Wednesday was that Dille kept a journal of “operational significant actions” with terse notes on what may have been happening on the battlefield on a given day. Parlatore noted it did not include any mention of Gallagher stabbing a fighter, shooting at civilians, or an entry about an innocent man being shot on Father's Day, which Dille recalled vividly.
Dille disagreed, saying in one entry that he noted he had tried unsuccessfully to save an old man from getting shot. The journal entry said only, “On sniper rifle. Just warning shots. Missed getting old man from getting shot.”
He later explained that he “had a sense of responsibility for keeping civilians from getting shot and I had failed.” Dille did not have entries or recall when the alleged shooting of the women or crowd occurred.
Seeking to show Dille potentially fabricated war crimes allegations along with other junior SEALs, Parlatore brought up complaints in the platoon that Gallagher had stolen small items from them, such as cookie butter.
Dille said later that these were serious allegations. “This is not cookie butter. This is not a barracks thief issue.”