Charged earlier this month 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The judge will then recommend which charges should be forwarded or withdrawn by an admiral who could convene a general court-martial.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 a 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.
Originally from Indiana, Gallagher, 39, enlisted in the Navy in 1999. He’s been a SEAL for 14 years, following a stint as a corpsman attached to the Marines, according to his military records.
Gallagher was advanced to chief on Nov. 16, 2015. His awards include three combat valor awards — two Bronze Stars with V device and one Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal.
He’s received two other commendation medals from both the Navy and Army.
He’s been married for 11 years. Gallagher’s wife, Andrea, told Navy Times that the family “suffered in silence” while whispered allegations against the SEAL mounted during the spring and early summer.
She echoed Stackhouse’s version of both Gallagher’s initial detention in June and his Sept. 11 arrest.
“My husband was receiving holistic care and treatment from a program we waited a year to get into and was ripped out without warning — shackled like a common criminal and held in solitary confinement for 72 hours,” she said. “He has now been in jail for nearly six weeks for pretrial confinement.
“These allegations are malicious and shameless, and I know that my husband did not do what is alleged, and I will stand by him and I know he will be exonerated of these charges. His family, friends, SEALs and former Marines and his scout sniper colleagues all stand beside Eddie. Eddie is a hero, and we are patiently awaiting the restoration of his good name and reputation.”
In an email to Navy Times, Supervisory Special Agent Anna Ryan said that “NCIS does not comment on ongoing investigations.”
There is no bail program in the military justice system. Senior commanders can place service members in pretrial confinement if they believe enough evidence exists to sustain a criminal charge and the suspect could be considered a flight risk or a danger to himself or others.
Stackhouse said that Gallagher’s ongoing incarceration is unnecessary, and it “interferes with his ability to defend himself, his ability to speak to his attorneys, and his ability to review evidence.”
For example, alongside the more than 1,000 pages of evidence compiled in Gallagher’s case are several videotapes seized by agents. Stackhouse said that the brig won’t allow footage to be reviewed in the facility, which has hampered his ability to get Gallagher’s perspective on it.
Two charities have come to Gallagher’s defense. The Virginia-based United American Patriots, which advocates for service members fighting war crimes charges, and the Navy SEALs Fund in Ohio are collecting donations on his behalf.
Asked for comment on Friday, Navy Special Warfare spokeswoman Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence reiterated a previous written statement emailed to Navy Times, saying only that an unidentified SEAL remains “under investigation by NCIS for professional misconduct while deployed to Iraq in 2017. We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and will cooperate fully with investigative authorities.”
“All members of Naval Special Warfare are required to comply with the Laws of Armed Conflict and U.S. law and regulations in the conduct of military operations,” she said. “Naval Special Warfare strives to maintain the highest level of readiness, effectiveness, discipline, efficiency, integrity, and public confidence. All suspected violations for which there is credible information are thoroughly investigated.”