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SEAL Officer Accused Of Covering Up War Crimes Heads To Court-Martial
NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL officer accused of failing to properly report alleged war crimes carried out by one of his men was arraigned on Tuesday in San Diego.
After being informed of his rights, Lt. Jacob Portier did not enter a plea or choose whether he'd ask for a jury or bench trial, since his civilian attorney has raised questions over a protective order in the case.
"Let me be clear: He'll be pleading not guilty because he is innocent," his attorney Jeremiah Sullivan said after the hearing. Sullivan has argued that the investigation into Portier and his unit, SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon, should be classified in order to protect past and future SEAL operations.
"Parading these warfighters around puts them at risk," Sullivan said. The question of whether to restrict information in the case should be worked out sometime next week, according to a timeline discussed by the judge on Tuesday.
Portier is accused of dereliction of duty, failure to obey a lawful order, and making false official statements, according to a charge sheet previously released by the Navy. Prosecutors allege Portier failed to properly report the alleged actions of his subordinate, SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who has been accused of murdering a wounded ISIS fighter and shooting at innocent civilians in Mosul, Iraq in 2017.
Portier also allegedly carried out a reenlistment ceremony for Gallagher near the corpse. When asked about it by a superior, according to the charge sheet, Portier said "there was nothing criminal" about it, but "it was just in bad taste."
Sullivan told reporters that Portier "never ordered" his men to pose next to the body of a dead ISIS fighter, but disputed the criminality of holding a reenlistment ceremony in a combat zone. "There is nothing more honorable than a warfighter being able to reenlist on the battlefield," Sullivan said.
Military prosecutors dropped one of the charges prior to Tuesday's hearing, which alleged that Portier had knowledge of the alleged murder and "wrongfully concealed" evidence to authorities. "That's a big deal," Sullivan told Task & Purpose of the dropped charge.
When asked whether Portier was potentially being charged as a way for the government to "flip" him to testify against Gallagher, Sullivan told Task & Purpose, "there's nothing to flip on here. He will testify honestly and truthfully."
Meanwhile, Gallagher's trial is scheduled for Feb. 19.
WATCH: A Navy SEAL Is Accused Of Committing War Crimes In Iraq
Gold Star family members might finally see an end to the so-called "Widows Tax" thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020.
The top Pentagon watchdog has announced it would be investigating all deaths of recruits during initial military training over the past five years, the agency said in a statement last week.
In a Dec. 4 memo, the DoD Inspector General said it was changing the scope of an investigation it had opened on Nov. 18 that was titled Evaluation of Medical Resources and Guidance to Trainers at Recruit Training Centers in the DoD. Its new title, the IG said, would be Evaluation of Medical Protocols and Deaths of Recruits in the DoD.
While its original objective of looking into the medical resources available to recruits would remain the same, the IG said it would now also review all deaths of recruits at military basic training facilities between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2019.
The move comes in the wake of several deaths at basic training facilities over the past year. In April, the Navy announced a safety review after two prospective sailors died at its recruit training facility in Great Lakes, Illinois. Seaman Recruit Kelsey Nobles died after a fitness test that month; Seaman Recruit Kierra Evans also died after the run portion of the fitness test.
In September, an 18-year-old soldier died following a "medical emergency" before a training drill at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has disciplined more than 20 Marines over misconduct at its San Diego boot camp since 2017, according to The Washington Post. The action came in the wake of a scandal involving the death of a 20-year-old Muslim recruit named Raheel Siddiqui, who fell 40 feet to his death at the Parris Island training facility, where he and other Muslims were targeted for abuse by their drill instructor (the instructor was later sentenced to 10 years in prison at court-martial).
According to the IG, Pentagon investigators will visit all DoD recruit training facilities and interview personnel from each service's education and training commands. They will also speak with personnel at military medical facilities, the Defense Health Agency, and those assigned at the Military Entrance Processing Command, which does the initial intake for civilians going into military service.
The number of substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct against senior Army officials increased this year, according to an Army Inspector General report recently presented to service leaders and obtained by Task & Purpose.
The document, which lays out broad details of IG investigations undertaken in fiscal year 2019, looks at investigations specific to senior Army officials, which includes "promotable colonels, general officers and senior executives," according to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz.
Marine Corps senior leaders have begun to express cautious openness to the idea of making the service's boot camps fully co-ed. But if Congress has its way, the service may be pushed toward full integration sooner than expected.
The final conference version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that would require the service to integrate both its East Coast and West Coast entry-level training facilities within the next eight years.
An Indiana National Guard soldier died Saturday at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, located about 75 miles southeast of Indianapolis.
Cpl. Larry Litton Jr., of Martinsville, was 30 years old and an assistant squad leader with the 384th Military Police Company when he was found unresponsive at the facility.