SAN DIEGO (CN) – The war crimes trial of a Navy SEAL accused of fatally stabbing a wounded Islamic State soldier in the neck and taking pictures with the corpse began Tuesday in a courtroom on Naval Base San Diego.
A colleague of Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward R. Gallagher testified Tuesday that the Navy SEAL leader threatened him over photos they took with the dead ISIS fighter that Gallagher is accused of killing in Iraq in 2017.
“Chief Gallagher got in my face and said ‘If you take me down, I’ll take all of you down. I’ve got shit on all of you,’” Lt. Thomas MacNeil told Navy prosecutor Cmdr. Jeff Pietrzyk.
Gallagher is accused of premeditated murder for allegedly stabbing the wounded ISIS solider in the neck after medical treatment had been provided to the teenage prisoner.
A reenlistment ceremony was conducted next to the soldier’s corpse, and photos of the group of SEALS standing next to the body were shown in court Tuesday.
Gallagher has pleaded not guilty.
The case has garnered national attention, with President Donald Trump suggesting he would pardon Gallagher if he is convicted. Representative Duncan Hunter, a Republican from San Diego, has also defended Gallagher, saying he also took photos with dead combatants when he served in the Marine Corps.
MacNeil served as a platoon leader who reported to Gallagher on SEAL Team 7 when they were deployed to Iraq in May 2017, assisting Iraqis with its emergency response division.
On May 3, 2017, MacNeil said an announcement came over the radio that there was an injured person brought to the camp.
MacNeil said Gallagher responded over the radio that he was turning his vehicle around to head back to camp, and MacNeil followed suit in a separate vehicle.
MacNeil’s testimony was peppered with interruptions by Gallagher’s attorney Timothy Parlatore, who argued the lieutenant’s testimony was based on hearsay. Rugh overruled most of the objections.
Once MacNeil got back to the camp, he said he saw the wounded ISIS soldier, whom he described as “adolescent” with “curly dark hair” and dirty clothes. He said that he noticed blood on the ISIS fighter’s leg but no other injuries, and fighter was conscious.
Later, MacNeil said he saw Gallagher with his custom-made knife worn in his belt on the lower part of his back and the dead ISIS soldier.
“He was impaled. He wasn’t speaking. He wasn’t breathing,” MacNeil said.
MacNeil said he witnessed part of a reenlistment ceremony which took place next to the corpse.
Pietrzyk asked whether a photo of the group of SEALS next to the dead ISIS soldier was “okay.” MacNeil answered it was not.
Gallagher and MacNeil are pictured in another photograph in which Gallagher is holding up the ISIS fighter’s corpse by his hair.
MacNeil said in the days that followed and after the platoon returned to San Diego, Gallagher wanted the photos deleted.
“He said the photos were bad,” MacNeil said. “Chief Gallagher directed anyone who had photos should delete them.”
MacNeil was the first witness to take the stand in Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh’s courtroom in what is expected to be a three-week trial.
The seven-person jury impaneled Tuesday morning includes two members of the Navy and five Marines. All the jurors are men and served in combat; one juror is a SEAL and two jurors are officers, according to Navy spokesman Brian O’Rourke.