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Navy SEAL on trial: Closing arguments end in Edward Gallagher war crimes case

Posted at 7:05 AM, Jul 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-01 21:18:25-04

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Navy SEAL committed murder during a deployment to Iraq and the proof is in his own words, his own photos and the testimony of his fellow troops, a military prosecutor told a jury Monday.

Cmdr. Jeff Pietrzyk said in closing arguments of a court-martial that text messages by Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher show he is guilty of fatally stabbing a wounded Islamic State prisoner on May 3, 2017.

One message said: "I've got a cool story for you when I get back. I've got my knife skills on." Another text stated: "Good story behind this. Got him with my hunting knife."

As he showed a photo of the dead prisoner with Gallagher holding up his head by the hair, the prosecutor said, "Those are his words."

The prosecutor said one SEAL who changed his story and claimed to have killed the prisoner himself was lying to protect Gallagher.

"The government's evidence in this case is Chief Gallagher's words, Chief Gallagher's pictures, Chief Gallagher's SEALs," Pietrzyk said.

The prosecutor said he wouldn't try to argue sympathy for the teenage prisoner, who had been wounded in an air strike.

"Before the air strike, he would have done anything in his power to kill an American," Pietrzyk said.

But he said the prisoner was not a lawful target.

"We're not ISIS. When we capture someone and they're out of the fight, that's it. That's where the line is drawn," Pietrzyk said.

Gallagher, 40, has pleaded not guilty to murder and allegations that he shot civilians and a violation involving posing with the corpse for photographs.

Defense lawyer Tim Parlatore began his closing argument the same way he started the trial. "This is case is not about murder, it's about mutiny." Parlatore said.

The attorney said there's no body, no forensics, and the SEALs who testified against Gallagher lied because they didn't like his demanding leadership.

Parlatore also addressed the testimony of Special Operator Corey Scott, who said he saw Gallagher stab the prisoner in the neck but stunned the court when he said he was the one who ultimately killed the prisoner by plugging his breathing tube with his thumb as an act of mercy.

The defense attorney contended that investigators never asked Scott about the cause of the death, which is why they were surprised by his testimony.

"They didn't even listen to their own witness," Parlatore said.

A jury of five Marines and two sailors, one a SEAL, will weigh whether Gallagher, a 19-year veteran on his eighth deployment, went off the rails and fatally stabbed the war prisoner as a kind of trophy kill.

During the trial, it was revealed that nearly all the platoon members readily posed for photos with the dead prisoner and watched as Gallagher read his reenlistment oath near the body in an impromptu ceremony.

Nearly a dozen SEALs testified over two weeks. Most were granted immunity to protect them from being prosecuted for acts they described on the stand.

Seven SEALs said Gallagher unexpectedly stabbed the prisoner, moments after he and the other medics treated the 17-year-old boy. Two, including Scott, testified they saw Gallagher plunge his knife into the prisoner's neck.

An Iraqi general who handed the wounded prisoner to the SEALs testified that Gallagher did not stab the boy. And Marine Staff Sgt. Giorgio Kirylo said after the militant died that he moved the body to take a "cool guy trophy" photo with it and saw no stab wounds on his neck.

Lt. Jacob Portier, the officer in charge, has been charged separately for overseeing the reenlistment ceremony and not reporting the alleged stabbing.