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
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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.”


China’s Xi Jinping to visit North Korea this week ahead of G20

Updated 17 June 2019
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China’s Xi Jinping to visit North Korea this week ahead of G20

  • Xi JingPing will be in Pyongyang at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
  • Kim Jong Un has gone to China multiple times over the past year

BEIJING: Xi Jinping will make the first trip to North Korea by a Chinese president in 14 years this week, state media said Monday, as Beijing tightens relations with Pyongyang amid tensions with the United States.
Xi will visit Pyongyang on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said Chinese broadcaster CCTV.
The timing is likely to raise eyebrows at the White House as it comes one week before the G20 summit in Japan, where US President Donald Trump expects to meet with Xi to discuss their protracted trade war.
Analysts say Xi could now use North Korea as leverage in talks with Trump.
China and North Korea have worked to improve relations in the past year after they deteriorated as Beijing backed a series of UN sanctions against its Cold War-era ally over its nuclear activities.
The North’s leader Kim Jong Un has traveled to China — his country’s sole major ally — four times in the past year to meet Xi.
But Xi had yet to reciprocate until now. It will be the first trip there by a Chinese president since Hu Jintao went in 2005.
“China-DPRK relations have opened a new chapter,” CCTV said, adding that Xi and Kim have reached a “series of important consensus” in past meetings.
Xi and Kim will “push for new progress” in a political resolution of the Korean peninsula issue, according to CCTV, which cited an unnamed official.
With Beijing and Washington at loggerheads over trade, China is keen to remind Trump of its influence in Pyongyang, with whom his nuclear negotiations — a point of pride for the US president, who faces an election next year — are also at a deadlock.
“The signal would be that China remains a critical stakeholder,” said Jingdong Yuan, a professor specializing in Asia-Pacific security and Chinese foreign policy at the University of Sydney.
“You cannot ignore China and China can play a very important role,” he told AFP. Xi could thus use the trip as a “bargaining chip” in the US-China trade war, he added.
According to an informed source in Pyongyang, Beijing was keen to arrange a visit to North Korea ahead of any encounter between Xi and Trump at the G20 summit — with logistics finalized only last month.
In recent days, hundreds of soldiers and workers have been sprucing up the Friendship Tower in Pyongyang, pruning bushes and replanting flowerbeds on the approaches to the monument, which commemorates the millions of Chinese troops Mao Zedong sent to save the forces of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, from defeat during the Korean War.
A detachment of soldiers in white jackets was also seen outside the Liberation War Museum — which includes a section on the Chinese contribution — potentially indicating that it may be on Xi’s itinerary.
The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said it had learned about Xi’s travel plans last week.
“We hope that this visit will contribute to the early resumption of negotiations for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula which will lead to the settlement of lasting peace on the Korean peninsula,” the Blue House said.
It will be Xi’s first trip to North Korea since taking power in 2012, though he visited the country as vice president in 2008.
In contrast, Kim Jong Un has gone to China multiple times over the past year — an unbalanced exchange that has not gone unnoticed in Pyongyang.
According to diplomatic sources in the North Korean capital, after Kim’s many trips to meet Xi, there were increasingly strong feelings in Pyongyang that the Chinese leader should reciprocate for reasons of saving face.
“From a North Korean perspective, it’s time for Chairman Xi to visit,” said John Delury, an expert on US-China relations and Korean Peninsula affairs at Yonsei University in Seoul.
“They do keep score and it’s like four to zero,” he recently told AFP. “So far, Xi has approached China-North Korea relations very much as a function of US-China relations and kind of calculated in terms of that.”
The visit also comes as negotiations between Trump and Kim have soured after a second summit in February broke up without a deal, failing to agree on what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange for sanctions relief.
Since then, Kim has accused Washington of acting in “bad faith” and given it until the end of the year to change its approach.
Still, the nuclear situation is “under control for now,” said Delury.
“That creates a space, a window where Xi could make a visit without expecting like a missile test the day he leaves or something like that,” he said.