SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – A decorated Navy SEAL platoon leader charged with war crimes in Iraq was due back in a San Diego military court on Wednesday for a hearing focused on his lawyers’ allegations that prosecutors engaged in illegal snooping on the defense team and news media.
The hearing comes less than a week before Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher is scheduled to go on trial in a court-martial charging him with murdering a helpless, wounded Islamic State fighter in his custody and shooting unarmed civilians.
But defense assertions that the Navy prosecutor, together with agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and presiding judge, have engaged in wrongdoing could lead to a substantial delay in further proceedings against Gallagher.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, including premeditated murder, two counts of attempted murder and obstructing justice.
U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in on the case publicly in March when he ordered Gallagher moved to less restrictive pre-trial confinement “in honor of his past service to our country.”
The New York Times reported days ago that Trump was reviewing Gallagher’s case for a possible pardon, along with several other U.S. military personnel accused or convicted of war crimes.
Gallagher’s private attorney Timothy Parlatore denied knowing anything about a pardon. “We’ve not asked for one,” he told Reuters on Tuesday.
Parlatore’s defense was focused for now on what he alleges is prosecutor misconduct. He has accused Navy lawyers of conducting illegal surveillance of defense attorneys and reporters by way of electronic tracking software secretly embedded in emails that were sent to the defense.
The software ostensibly was used in an effort to pinpoint the source of confidential information leaked to the press.
QUESTION THE JUDGE
On Wednesday, the Navy judge, Captain Aaron Hugh, will hear arguments over Parlatore’s motion to question the lead prosecutor, NCIS agents and the judge himself under oath.
Navy officials have declined to comment on the allegations, and much of the court record has been sealed.
NCIS has previously issued a statement saying it used “an audit capability” in its investigation of leaks but insisted it did not involve “malware” or other technology to infect or compromise a computer system, said Brian O’Rourke, spokesman for U.S. Naval Base San Diego, where the proceedings take place.
The stakes could not be higher for Gallagher, 39, a career combat veteran and two-time Bronze Star recipient who began his Navy service as a medic. The case stems from his latest deployment to Iraq in 2017.
Gallagher asserts he is wrongly accused and that fellow SEAL team members testifying against him – several under grants of immunity – are disgruntled subordinates who fabricated allegations to force him from command.
Reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Bill Tarrant and Darren Schuettler