A court-martial for a Navy SEAL charged with murdering a wounded ISIS combatant will begin Friday, according to NBC News.
The murder charge, which amounts to a war crime allegation, is just one of several against Navy Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher, a case that has made national headlines due to the shocking and brutal allegations. The SEAL has been accused of stabbing to death a wounded ISIS militant, then posing for photos and holding a reenlistment ceremony next to the body.
Gallagher has also been charged with obstruction of justice for alleged attempts to cover up the killing — a charge that renews scrutiny of the military’s elite special operations forces, whose dangerous assignments often require secrecy even years after the mission is complete.
During the two-day Article 32 hearing in November, prosecutors presented evidence they said proves Gallagher attempted to bribe fellow Navy SEALs not to talk to Navy investigators, NBC 7 reported.
One SEAL claimed Gallagher threatened members of his platoon to discourage them from reporting his actions, telling them “I have s— on all of you. If you bring this up you all go down,” according to charge sheets reviewed by Task & Purpose.
Other evidence of obstruction included text messages obtained from Gallagher’s cell phone that suggest he threatened to disclose the identities of SEALs to the public. According to T&P, prosecutors said Gallagher sent the text messages shortly after a search warrant, which contained the initials of witnesses, was executed on his home.
Gallagher sent texts to a former SEAL, saying he knew who the witnesses were and wanted to dox them on social media sites, circulating their names within SEAL communities as informants.
Gallagher is expected to enter a plea of not guilty. Phillip Stackhouse, Gallagher’s defense attorney, says the accusations stem from embittered teammates seeking payback for the SEAL Chief’s aggressive leadership style.
Still, the allegations of a special operator trying to blackmail his own teammates are another chilling example of the difficulty of investigating crimes allegedly committed by America’s elite forces. A slew of alleged incidents ranging from drug trafficking to murder forced the Pentagon to open a sweeping investigation into the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
In one alarming incident, Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar was allegedly strangled by two Navy SEALs and two special operations Marines in 2017; sources in the special operations community told The Daily Beast that Melgar had discovered the SEALs pocketing money from operational funds. Charges against all four special operators include obstruction; one SEAL is accused of inserting a breathing tube in Melgar’s throat known as a cricothyrotomy to cover up the strangling.
Special operations missions are protected by a shroud of secrecy. Defended as a necessary element to protect national security interests as well as the identities of US service members and their families, this layer of protection has been associated with a culture of lawlessness— something Lt. Gen. Francis Beaudette, head of Army’s Special Operations Command, sees as a threat to his force.
“If we fail to meet the high standards expected of us, we fail in our duty to the nation,” he wrote in a November memo.
The Pentagon’s review of SOCOM is due in both houses of Congress by March 1.