Witness seeks immunity to testify against SEAL accused of battlefield murder
"Making sure the truth of what he personally witnessed comes out at trial is the right thing to do, and he will not be intimidated from doing that, despite the leaks that have happened in this case."
Prosecutors could gain an ally in the case of a Navy SEAL accused of executing a young ISIS fighter during the battle of Mosul in 2017 and his commanding officer, who allegedly failed to report the incident.
An attorney for a fellow SEAL has requested immunity for his client in return for testifying that Chief Edward Gallagher called in “false target coordinates to engage a mosque” and put his team at risk, yet Lt. Jacob Portier failed to relieve him on several occasions, Navy Times' Carl Prine first reported.
Gallagher is charged with premeditated murder for allegedly using his knife to kill a wounded ISIS fighter and then posing for a reenlistment video next to the man's corpse. Portier has been charged with obstruction of justice and related offenses for allegedly destroying evidence in the case and lying about Gallagher, as well as dereliction of duty for allegedly not stopping Gallagher from wounding two non-combatants.
The SEAL who served with Gallagher and Portier is requesting immunity so that he will be protected against any possible retaliation in the future, said attorney Michael Hanzel, who is defending the SEAL along with his wife Lauren and a Navy attorney.
“Our client has done nothing wrong, and we believe the record will demonstrate that,” Hanzel said in a statement to Task & Purpose.
“It is never an easy thing to be placed in the middle of a situation like this, but it is crucial to the integrity of the military justice system that witnesses in a case as high-profile as this are protected from retaliation later. The only way to ensure that is through grants of immunity, which is why we requested that for our client.”
Task & Purpose is withholding the name of the SEAL at the request of Hanzel, who said the SEAL, his family, and other potential witnesses in the case could be in danger if they were identified by the media.
“We do not want any of their names published because it would not be fair to any of these SEALs and their families to be put in that position simply because they were witnesses to misconduct while on deployment,” Hanzel said.
The SEAL is showing “great courage” by offering to testify about what he witnessed during the deployment with Gallagher and Portier, said Hanzel, who added his client is not seeking any publicity, nor does he bear a grudge against any of the accused SEALs.
“He was placed in this position by the actions of others whose conduct has led to this trial, and he feels it is important to do the right thing,” Hanzel said. “Making sure the truth of what he personally witnessed comes out at trial is the right thing to do, and he will not be intimidated from doing that, despite the leaks that have happened in this case.”
Hanzel stressed that no one on his client's defense team provided the legal document requesting immunity to the media. The document, known as a “proffer,” was never meant to become public.
“We are very disappointed that less than 24 hours after we submitted it to Navy prosecutors, I was being contacted by members of the media who had been given a copy of it by someone who had leaked it to the media,” he said.
A spokesman for Navy Region Southwest declined to comment for this story. The court-martial for Gallagher is slated to begin on Feb. 19. Portier does not yet have a trial date.
Gallagher's attorney Phillip Stackhouse said it is important to remember the government has not yet decided whether to grant the SEAL immunity. At this stage, Hanzel has provided the government with an internal document about what the SEAL might say.
“A lawyer telling another lawyer what his client intends to say is worthless and meaningless,” Stackhouse told Task & Purpose.
Portier's attorney Jeremiah Sullivan slammed both the SEAL and the prosecution in the case.
“The proffer provided by to secure immunity for himself implicates SEAL master chiefs and a lieutenant commander and promises to rat on other unreported misconduct,” Sullivan said in a statement to Task & Purpose. “The prosecutors want senior accountability and is their tool to create a conspiracy that does not exist.”