The unprecedented twists in a Navy SEAL’s war crimes case that ultimately led to the Navy secretary getting fired

Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher after being acquitted of premeditated murder at Naval Base San Diego July 2, 2019.

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Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher after being acquitted of premeditated murder at Naval Base San Diego July 2, 2019.
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Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
  • Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher was accused of killing a teenage ISIS fighter in US custody in Iraq and of shooting at Iraqi civilians. He was acquitted of all charges, except for posing with the body of the dead ISIS fighter.
  • But the case gained significant media attention for its twists and because of the intervention of President Donald Trump, who reversed the decision against Gallagher in November.
  • The aftermath of the case reached the highest levels of the Pentagon, with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer resigning amid reports he assured Trump that Gallagher could keep his Trident and retire as a SEAL even as Spencer called for an administrative review board to determine Gallagher’s fitness for service.
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The case of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher has been the most high-profile war crimes case in recent history.

Gallagher was arrested in September 2018 in relation to allegations he killed a teenage ISIS fighter who was in US military custody and shot at civilians while he was deployed to Iraq in 2017.

Gallagher’s case caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who repeatedly intervened in the case as it progressed, leading to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer being forced out of his position in a dispute over Gallagher’s punishment.

Read on to learn more about the twists and turns in Gallagher’s case.


Marc Mukasey, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, also represented Gallagher during his trial.

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Defense attorneys Marc Mukasey, right, and Tim Parlatore outside a military court at Naval Base San Diego after Gallagher was acquitted of premeditated murder, July 2, 2019.
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Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

He is also part of the team advising the president during the impeachment inquiry against him, Politico reported in October. Mukasey also used to work with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

“I’m a trial lawyer,” Mukasey told Task & Purpose in May. “I represent the president in court and I represent Eddie Gallagher in court.”


Trump also intervened during Gallagher’s confinement before his court-martial.

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Gallagher arrives for the start of his court-martial at Naval Base San Diego.
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Reuters

In March, a group of Republican lawmakers sought to intervene on Gallagher’s behalf when he was being held at San Diego’s Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar.

The 40 legislators signed a letter urging Rear Adm. Yancy B. Lindsey to find a different method of confinement for Gallagher, who was arrested in relation to war-crimes charges, including killing an injured teenage ISIS fighter – which one of his teammates later confessed to – and shooting at unarmed Iraqi civilians, of which he was later acquitted.

Trump also got involved, ordering Gallagher be moved to less restrictive confinement. Gallagher was later confined at Marine Air Station Miramar, but reports at the time noted that he was still barred from using the internet.


The case only got more wild. In June, right before Gallagher’s court-martial was to begin, the lead prosecutor was booted.

Navy Times reported that Cdr. Christopher Czaplak, the lead prosecutor, was ordered off the case by judge Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh, after he admitted to secretly emailing a tracker to several of the defense attorneys an editor at Navy Times in order to find the source of leaks to the media about the case.

The tracker was embedded the code of in an image of an American flag, the scales of justice, and an eagle in Czaplak’s signature on the emails, according to Navy Times.

The prosecution and NCIS agents were also accused of attempting to taint the jury pool by leaking documents to reporters, trying to keep witnesses for Gallagher from testifying, and trying to cover up the attempts, Navy Times reports.

Rugh released Gallagher from confinement because of the prosecutorial interference.


The prosecutors who tried Gallagher’s case were awarded Navy Achievement Medals for their work on the case — which Trump then rescinded.

Members of the prosecutorial team were given the medals after the conclusion of the case in July, despite the many problems in their case and their failure to get a conviction on almost all of the charges for which Gallagher was being court-martialed.

During the trial itself, one of the prosecution’s witnesses, Special Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, admitted to killing the teenage ISIS fighter who had been captured. The prosecution’s case only unraveled from there – it accused Scott of lying and impugned its own witness.

Trump stripped the team of the medals.

“The Prosecutors who lost the case against SEAL Eddie Gallagher (who I released from solitary confinement so he could fight his case properly), were ridiculously given a Navy Achievement Medal,” Trump tweeted on July 31.

“I have directed the Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer & Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson to immediately withdraw and rescind the awards.”


To cap off the dramatic developments in Gallagher’s case, Trump granted him clemency, restoring his rank after he was demoted.

Gallagher was found guilty of posing with the corpse of the teenage ISIS fighter and sentenced to a demotion in rank to petty officer 1st class.

Trump insisted that Gallagher’s rank be restored, and he will now retire as a chief petty officer.

Navy Special Warfare Command planned to remove his SEAL Trident pin, which indicates membership in the SEAL community, and dismiss him from its ranks.

Trump tweeted last week that the Navy would not take Gallagher’s Trident, amid reports that the command still planned to call an administrative review board to determine whether Gallagher would remain a SEAL.

On Tuesday, after Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was dismissed over his actions in the case – circumventing Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to tell Trump that Gallagher would retain his pin while publicly advocating that the review process to play out – the Navy formally cancelled Gallagher’s Trident review board, according to USNI News.