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Trump steps in on behalf of Navy SEAL charged with war crimes

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Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward R. Gallagher is accused by fellow SEALs of stabbing an injured teenage Islamic State fighter in the neck when the combatant was brought to his unit for medical treatment.
(U.S. Navy)

A San Diego-based Navy SEAL charged with killing an injured ISIS fighter in Iraq was released from a military brig and restricted to the base Saturday night, the SEAL’s attorney said, the same day President Donald Trump moved to intervene in his case.

Trump wrote on Twitter Saturday morning: “In honor of his past service to our country, Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court. Process should move quickly!”

The move comes after months of advocacy from Chief Special Warfare Operator Gallagher’s family and from Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and other lawmakers.

Earlier this week a group of 40 lawmakers signed a letter and held a news conference, asking Trump to act on behalf of Gallagher, who has been held at the Navy Consolidated Brig Miramar since his arrest Sept. 11.

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“It’s great news and Congressman Hunter appreciates the president’s leadership and direct involvement on this important issue,” Hunter spokesman Michael Harrison said Saturday. “Despite this positive news, there is work to do and Congressman Hunter is actively engaging with the Gallagher family in requesting the Navy’s relocation accomplish the goals of a fair trial, access to his family and Eddie’s overall well-being.”

Gallagher is charged with multiple war crimes based on allegations from fellow SEALs that, during deployment in 2017, he killed a teenage Islamic State fighter who was brought to his unit for medical treatment. He is accused of stabbing the fighter in the neck.

He is also charged with shooting indiscriminately at civilian noncombatants, hitting two of them. Navy prosecutors say Gallagher tried to intimidate witnesses once he found out he was under investigation — the reason he was placed in pretrial confinement.

Gallagher has pleaded not guilty, denying all charges. Some of his advocates say he is innocent, while others say that if he did those things he should not be punished for what happens on a battlefield.

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Gallagher’s wife, Andrea Gallagher, has been asking Trump to become involved in the case for weeks. She appeared on Fox News and One America News Network on separate occasions.

She said Saturday that the president had answered her prayers.“Our family is thrilled with the president’s declaration to step in and release my husband,” she said. “For us, it’s a symbol of the president’s loyalty and faithfulness to the military and military families. We feel this is a small step to justice.”

Details of the transfer were unclear early Saturday. Navy officials said they were aware of the tweet but no orders had come down yet from the White House. Gallagher’s attorney, San Diego-based Phillip Stackhouse, said Saturday he thought Gallagher could be released the same day.

“The timeline is still being worked out,” he said. “One would hope that when a directive has been issued by the president it would happen quickly, so our anticipation is that it will happen today or tomorrow.”

Gallagher’s advocates have complained about the conditions of the brig. His lawyers and family have argued he has been prevented from getting medical care and from visiting with family and legal counsel.

Stackhouse said Gallagher probably would be released on a sort of house arrest, in which he would be restricted to a local military base, except to attend medical appointments. He also might be restricted from communicating with witnesses in the case, Stackhouse said.

Gallagher “is focused on his upcoming trial,” Stackhouse said. “He’s thankful for all the support he’s getting in the public.”

Gallagher’s trial, originally scheduled to begin in February, was delayed until May 28. If convicted of the most serious charge — premeditated murder — Gallagher faces up to life in prison.

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Dyer writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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