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A DECORATED Navy SEAL pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges of premeditated murder and other crimes in the stabbing death of a teenage IS prisoner in Iraq last year and the shooting of unarmed Iraqi civilians.

Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher will stand trial on Feb 19 before a jury that will be one-third enlisted personnel. Gallagher has been jailed since his arrest on Sept 11, and a judge said he will determine next week whether the 19-year Navy veteran should be released before trial.

The case is unusual because of the seriousness of the allegations against an elite special warfare operator and because prosecutors’ case includes the accounts of fellow Navy SEALs, an extremely tight-knit group even by military standards.

At Friday’s arraignment, prosecutors handed over 1,700 pages of documents, including text messages they say show Gallagher trying to intimidate witnesses. They say the information shows why he should not be released.

His attorney, Phil Stackhouse, dismissed the documents as “hearsay and double hearsay statements”. He said Gallagher is being falsely accused by disgruntled SEALs who wanted to get rid of a demanding platoon leader and that several of the government’s witnesses have now indicated they don’t clearly remember what happened.

At a two-day preliminary hearing at the Navy base in November, investigators said Gallagher stabbed the teen in the neck and body with a knife after he was handed over to the SEALs in the Iraqi city of Mosul to be treated for wounds sustained by the Iraqi Army and its prisoners during an airstrike in May 2017.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Joe Warpinski told the court that a SEAL medic told him he believed he had just stabilised the teen when Gallagher “walked up without saying anything at all” and started stabbing him.

Afterwards, prosecutors say he took photos of himself with the corpse, holding up his knife in one hand and propping up the body by holding the head with his other hand and bragged, “I got this one with my knife, with my hunting knife.” Warpinski, who spoke to nine members of SEAL Team 7, said he was told Gallagher would fire into crowds of Iraqis. He is accused of shooting an elderly man carting a water jug in Mosul in June 2017 and a girl walking along a riverbank in the same area a month later.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2019

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