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Navy SEAL, Who Faces War Crimes Charges, To Go On Trial Next Week

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A U.S. Navy SEAL is preparing to go on trial for war crimes. His name is Eddie Gallagher, and he is charged with allegedly shooting an elderly man and a girl in Iraq in 2017. Members of Gallagher's own unit are scheduled to testify against him. The case has drawn the attention of the White House. The trial begins next week in San Diego. Steve Walsh with member station KPBS has more.

STEVE WALSH, BYLINE: When Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher was taken into custody September 11, 2018, he had finished his eighth combat tour in his 19-year career. His wife, Andrea, says he was getting ready to begin a new assignment as a trainer for SEALs on the West Coast.

ANDREA GALLAGHER: We were going to set the stage for him retiring. It was - it was the culmination of an extravagant and decorated career that we had survived. I have so many friends that have buried their husbands. So to me, it was just a blessing alone that my husband was alive.

WALSH: Gallagher is charged with killing a wounded teenage ISIS fighter in his custody during a deployment in Mosul in 2017. Seven SEALs under Gallagher have been granted immunity to testify against their former platoon leader. His wife suggests it's payback by members of the SEAL team who were disgruntled by his leadership in Mosul.

GALLAGHER: A handful of people that were called out for cowardice. He basically set them on the bench after finding out that they were complaining about what their job was.

WALSH: During pre-trial hearings, prosecutors said the wounded fighter had been brought to Gallagher by Iraqi forces. They contend that after the prisoner received medical care, Gallagher stabbed him in the throat. The evidence includes text messages showing Gallagher posing with the body and bragging about killing the man.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Is this how you treat a decorated veteran?

WALSH: Since Gallagher was taken into custody, Fox News and other outlets have aired segments complaining about his treatment. Forty members of Congress signed a petition to move Gallagher out of the brig to a less restrictive confinement, among them South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman, heard here on Fox News.

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RALPH NORMAN: He killed a terrorist. He killed a terrorist who was trying to make bombs to kill us.

WALSH: In March, President Trump responded in a tweet ordering Gallagher to be removed from the brig. The New York Times reports the White House is considering a pardon. Outside the courtroom this week, Gallagher's attorney, Tim Parlatore, says they'd prefer to have the case dismissed by the commander in chief. But they wouldn't reject a pardon.

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TIM PARLATORE: Ultimately, my goal, my primary duty, is to get my client home to his family and to have him not be facing jail time. So if offered a pardon, would he accept? I bet he would.

WALSH: Hundreds of pages of files have been leaked to the media. Prosecutors attempted to hunt down the source of the leaks with software that allowed them to track government emails sent to the defense and reporters. The defense plans to ask that prosecutors and possibly the judge be removed from the case for what Gallagher's attorney labeled as spying.

The military prosecutors won't comment on the case outside the courtroom. Gary Barthel is a retired Marine Corps officer who continues to work as a private military attorney based in San Diego. He says prosecuting a highly decorated SEAL for war crimes sends an important message.

GARY BARTHEL: Not all countries have rules of engagement, and we do. We want the world to know that we're a country that abides by these rules. And if we're captured as a prisoner by the enemy, you know, we would expect that they would treat our prisoners just as we would treat theirs.

WALSH: Barring an intervention by the White House, Gallagher's court martial is still scheduled to get underway by the end of next week. For NPR News, I'm Steve Walsh in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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