Charged a few months ago with multiple war crimes in connection with the 2017 stabbing death of a detainee in Iraq, Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward “Eddie” Gallagher vows to fight for his freedom.
The 19-year Navy veteran has hired two high-powered criminal defense attorneys who specialize in military law — Colby Vokey of Dallas and Phillip Stackhouse of San Diego — and he’s exploring a civil rights lawsuit against Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents for alleged misconduct linked to his Sept. 11 arrest and detention in San Diego’s Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar.
An Article 32 hearing with a special military judge sent from Florida will begin to sift through the evidence against Gallagher on Nov. 14 in San Diego, according to Stackhouse.
The judge will then recommend which charges should be forwarded or withdrawn by an admiral who could convene a general court-martial. Gallagher has been accused of murder, aggravated assault, obstruction of justice and professional misconduct.
“While the burden is very, very low to send the charges to court, Chief Gallagher will, like he has on every combat deployment, fight. Fight to clear his name, fight for justice, and fight to expose the lies that are being made against him,” said Stackhouse in a written statement emailed to Navy Times.
Multiple criminal defense attorneys, senior military commanders in the Navy and several special warfare units told Navy Times that the ongoing war crimes probe isn’t focused solely on Gallagher but includes more than a dozen SEALs who also deployed between 2017 and early 2018 near what then was Islamic State-held Mosul, Iraq.
NCIS agents are not only probing a number of serious allegations involving the death of the detainee, but also images that allegedly depict SEALs posing with the body. They’re also exploring concerns about how Naval Special Warfare Group 1 officers and senior enlisted leaders handled the initial reports about war crimes and the internal investigation that followed in their wake, they say.
But the central question in Gallagher’s case is whether he and other SEALs rendered first aid to the wounded Islamic State fighter or if they executed him.
Because the military judge has sealed most evidence in the case and has placed a gag order on all parties, Stackhouse said he can’t address specific allegations or delve into most details of the NCIS probe.
“But what we’ve learned in our independent investigation into these allegations is that crime simply didn’t happen,” he said.
Stackhouse traces the beginning of the NCIS investigation to April, while Gallagher was preparing to retire from the Navy and leave California for Florida.
He’s asked military prosecutors for a copy of the June search warrant, obtained through a federal magistrate in San Diego, that allowed NCIS agents to search Gallagher’s residence in military housing in Point Loma, but they haven’t provided it yet.
“They held Chief Gallagher at NCIS, while they knew his wife was at work,” Stackhouse said. “NCIS laid siege to the house in the morning hours ― weapons drawn — and inexplicably traumatized Chief Gallagher’s young sons by pulling them out of the house at gunpoint in their underwear.”
Stackhouse said the NCIS probe culminated on Sept. 11, when agents arrested Gallagher at Camp Pendleton’s Intrepid Spirit Center.
Opened on April 4, the base facility aids service members recovering from traumatic brain injury. Stackhouse said that Gallagher suffers from multiple head injuries incurred during his combat duty overseas.