Elite US Navy SEAL facing war crimes charges for killings in Iraq

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US Navy SEAL officer Edward Gallagher. (AP)
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US Navy SEALs, one of the world's most elite special forces units, are seen in action in this file photo, (AP photo)
Updated 28 April 2019

Elite US Navy SEAL facing war crimes charges for killings in Iraq

  • Platoon commander's behavior horrified his own men, yet Republican lawmakers want him to be set free
  • Barbarian officer's men spent more time protecting civilians than they did fighting Daesh, says investigator

LOS ANGELES: Stabbing a teenage prisoner to death, picking off a young girl and an old man with a sniper rifle and firing a heavy machine gun into a residential area: these are some of the charges facing an elite US Navy SEAL on trial for war crimes while deployed in Iraq.
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a decorated 39-year-old veteran of combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, is still a hero in the eyes of many Americans and the rightwing Fox News channel — and his case may even become a factor in next year’s presidential elections.
Around 40 Republican members of Congress have written an open letter demanding Gallagher — who denies the charges against him — be set free until he stands trial. One has even called on President Donald Trump to step in and have the case dismissed.
Trump has weighed in on the case on Twitter, saying that he had intervened to ensure that Gallagher — who was nominated for the Silver Star for his service — “will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court.”
Trump said the move was made “in honor of his past service to our Country.”
Gallagher, a platoon commander of SEAL Team 7, will face a military tribunal at a Navy base in San Diego on May 28. He was arrested last September and has been held at the base ever since.

Reported by his own men
He was arrested after men under his command in the elite Navy unit were so horrified by his actions that they complained to their superiors, but were warned that their accusations could damage their careers, according to reports in The Navy Times and The New York Times this week.
Gallagher now faces charges of premeditated murder, attempted murder and obstruction of justice. He could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty.
The crimes he stands accused of were committed in 2017 during a deployment in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. US special forces were fighting alongside Iraqi troops to take back parts of the town from Daesh group fighters.
His lawyer did not respond to an AFP request for comment.

Disturbing behavior
According to testimony at a preliminary hearing last November, members of Gallagher’s Alpha platoon were so disturbed by his behavior that they tampered with his sniper rifle to make it less accurate, and would fire warning shots to make civilians flee before he could open fire on them.
“They said they spent more time protecting civilians than they did fighting Daesh,” Special Agent Joe Warpinski of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service told the military court.
Their chief allegedly boasted about the number of people he had killed, including women, according to The New York Times.
In May 2017, Iraqi troops captured a wounded teenage Daesh fighter who appeared to be around 15 years old.
Two members of the SEAL team said that as a medic was treating the fighter’s wounds, Gallagher stepped up without a word and stabbed the prisoner in the neck and side several times.
He then posed for a photo holding up the teenager’s head in one hand and the knife in the other, the two SEALs said. He went on to stand over the youth’s body and perform a re-enlistment ceremony while another member of the team held up a US flag, they said.
According to the charge sheet, soldiers from his unit tried on several occasions to alert their superiors about the alleged war crimes, but without success. Seven of them said they were told they could face retaliation if they went public with the case, but finally managed to bring their concerns to a higher-ranking officer.
Gallagher’s commanding officer, Lt. Jacob Portier, reportedly posed in the photo with the dead teenager and is himself facing charges for failing to report the crimes and for destroying evidence.
Navy prosecutor Chris Czaplak said Gallagher had “handed Daesh propaganda manna from heaven” by deciding to “act like the monster the terrorists accuse us of being.”

New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

Updated 24 May 2019

New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

  • The election of Lori Lightfoot as mayor gives Chicago’s Arabs an opportunity to reverse the damage that Rahm Emanuel has caused
  • Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained against

Plagued by ongoing controversies and criticism that he tried to hide a video of Chicago police killing a black teenager in October 2014, Rahm Emanuel decided he had had enough as the city’s mayor and decided to retire.

Elected in 2011 with a big boost from his former boss, US President Barack Obama — also a Chicago native — Emanuel served two full terms.

But his hopes of reversing the city’s tumbling finances, improving its poorly performing schools, and reversing record gun-related violence and killings, all failed.

However, Emanuel did have one success. He managed to gut the involvement of Chicago’s Arab-American minority in city-sponsored events, responding favorably to its influential Jewish-American community leadership, which complained about Palestinian activists who advocated for statehood and challenged Israeli oppression.

Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained included photographs of Palestinians protesting against Israel. The festival had only been launched four years earlier by his predecessor in 2007.

Emanuel also disbanded the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs, and ended Arab American Heritage Month, which had been held every November since it was recognized by Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.

Emanuel refused to discuss his reasons for these decisions with leaders of Chicago’s Arab community.

He declined repeated requests by me to interview him, despite my having interviewed seven Chicago mayors. He declined similar requests from other Arab journalists.

While he hosted iftars for Muslims, he never hosted an Arab heritage celebration during his eight years in office.

His father was a leader of the Irgun, which was denounced as a terrorist organization in the 1940s by the British military.

The Irgun murdered British soldiers and thousands of Palestinian civilians, and orchestrated the bloody Deir Yassin massacre on April 9, 1948.

Before becoming mayor, Emanuel volunteered at an Israeli military base repairing damaged vehicles. His pro-Israel stance was never challenged by the mainstream US news media.

But with the election in February of Lori Lightfoot as mayor, Chicago’s Arabs have an opportunity to reverse the damage that Emanuel caused.

Lightfoot was sworn into office on Monday and serves for four years. She has already reached out to Arabs, appointing at least two Palestinians to her 400-person transition team, whose members often remain and assume government positions with new administrations.

The two Palestinians in her transition team are Rush Darwish and Rami Nashashibi. Darwish has organized several successful marathons in Chicago and Bethlehem to raise funds for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Nashashibi is involved with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).

As an African American, Lightfoot knows what it is like to be the victim of racism, stereotypes and discrimination. That makes her more sensitive to the concerns of Chicago’s Arabs.