Closing Arguments in Trial of Navy SEAL for In-Custody Killing of IS Fighter

Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward R. Gallagher arrives with his wife, Andrea, at the Naval Base San Diego courthouse Monday for closing arguments in the court-martial accusing him of war crimes. (Bianca Bruno / CNS)

SAN DIEGO (CN) – Prosecutors and attorneys for Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward R. Gallagher presented their closing arguments in a nationally watched court-martial Monday, with both sides zeroing in on conflicting text messages exchanged by teammates of the SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon.

“I’ve got a cool story for you when I get back. I got my knife skills on,” Navy prosecutor Cmdr. Jeff Pietrzyk read from a text message Gallagher sent when he was deployed to Mosul, Iraq, in 2017.

“Those are his words,” Pietrzyk said, in pointing out there is “significant evidence” including videos and pictures which support the government’s contention Gallagher stabbed and killed an adolescent Islamic State solider who had been captured and brought back to the SEAL’s compound by members of the Iraqi Emergency Response Division working alongside U.S. troops.

Pietrzyk told the all-male jury of five Marines and two members of the Navy that Gallagher had a “premeditated design” to kill the IS fighter as soon as he heard over the radio the prisoner had been brought back to the compound.

Some of Gallagher’s teammates testified they heard the chief come over the radio and say “Don’t touch him, he’s mine,” before returning to the compound.

A medic, Gallagher first gave first aid to the wounded IS fighter, who had been shot multiple times in the leg. But after performing some medical procedures, Gallagher stabbed the fighter in the neck with his custom knife according to witness testimony in the two-week trial.

“He would have done anything in his power to kill any American. He’s not sympathetic – no one is going to argue that. But he was no longer a lawful target,” Pietrzyk said of the IS fighter.

Pietrzyk also argued Gallagher committed premeditated murder based on comments some of his teammates testified he made during a meeting following the IS fighter’s death where Gallagher said he thought his teammates “were cool with it.”

“Next time we get a prisoner, it will be out of sight, out of mind,” Gallagher said, according to witnesses.

“His intent was to kill him as soon as he learned he was ISIS,” Pietrzyk said.

As for the bombshell testimony by Corey Scott, one of Gallagher’s teammates who claimed he – not Gallagher – killed the IS fighter by plugging his breathing tube and asphyxiating him, Pietrzyk said Scott changed his testimony from what he’d previously told investigators to protect Gallagher.

“He had his ‘I am Spartacus’ moment to assist Chief Gallagher. That’s a hell of a friend,” Pietrzyk said.

Pietrzyk said even though the cause of death of the IS fighter was unconfirmed – with forensic experts from both sides agreeing they couldn’t rule on a cause of death – the stabbing was a proximate cause of the death and Gallagher could still be on-the-hook for premeditated murder.

Acknowledging inconsistencies in testimony offered by Gallagher’s SEAL teammates, Pietrzyk told jurors they would have to decide who told the truth.

“Did they choose truth or did they choose loyalty to Chief Gallagher. That is something you will have to wrestle with,” Pietrzyk said.

Gallagher’s attorney Timothy Parlatore argued the text message Gallagher sent claiming to have a “cool story” about using his knife skills on the IS fighter was a joke.

“It’s dark humor. It’s a joke. It is not a confession of murder,” Parlatore said before pivoting to ask if “every text message” sent by members of Gallagher’s platoon was to be taken seriously, then SEAL Petty Officer First Class Dalton Tolbert should be charged with attempted arson for threatening to “burn this motherfucking courthouse to the ground.”

Parlatore said Tolbert and other members of Gallagher’s platoon formed a “mutiny” against their chief initially over interpersonal disputes including disagreement about combat tactics and missing care package items while the platoon was deployed and escalating to accusing Gallagher of war crimes.

Several members of the platoon sent WhatsApp text messages in a group chat dubbed “The Sewing Circle.” Text messages from the group chat shown in court included messages in which Gallagher’s teammates discussed reporting alleged war crimes and “coordinated” their complaints.

“They put the mutiny above the truth, loyalty to their friends above the truth and their hatred for Eddie Gallagher above the truth,” Parlatore said.

The jury was instructed by Navy Capt. Judge Aaron Rugh and started deliberating late Monday afternoon.

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