Navy SEAL’s fair trial rights may have been violated in war crimes case

US Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher leaves a military courtroom in San Diego, California, with his wife, Andrea Gallagher, on May 30, 2019. (AP Photo/ Julie Watson)
Updated 01 June 2019
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Navy SEAL’s fair trial rights may have been violated in war crimes case

  • Gallagher is charged with murdering a helpless, wounded Daesh militant in his custody
  • The officer blames his disgruntled subordinates of wrongly accusing him

SAN DIEGO, California: The military judge presiding over the court-martial of a US Navy SEAL charged with war crimes said on Friday prosecutors who electronically tracked email communications of defense lawyers without a warrant violated the accused’s right to a fair trial.

The finding came near the end of a two-day hearing that wrapped up just 10 days before Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher is due to stand trial in a case that has drawn the attention of US President Donald Trump.

Gallagher is charged with murdering a helpless, wounded Daesh militant in his custody, and with two counts of attempted murder in the wounding of two unarmed civilians, a schoolgirl and elderly man, shot from a sniper’s perch.

The charges stem from Gallagher’s deployment as a platoon leader to Iraq’s northern city of Mosul, in 2017.

He has pleaded not guilty to those and other charges, including obstructing justice. If convicted, the decorated career combat veteran could face life in prison.

Gallagher says he was 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.

US Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher is charged with murdering a helpless, wounded Daesh militant in his custody, and with two counts of attempted murder in the wounding of two unarmed civilians, a schoolgirl and elderly man, shot from a sniper’s perch.

His defense team has filed motions seeking either to dismiss the charges altogether, or remove the lead prosecutor from the case, on grounds of alleged misconduct by the prosecutor and agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

The defense specifically has accused Navy lawyers of conducting illegal surveillance of defense attorneys and news media using electronic tracking software secretly embedded in emails sent to the defense.

In court, prosecutors have said the email “auditing tools” they used were designed merely to detect the flow of emails without revealing their content, and were aimed at pinpointing the source of leaks from case files sealed by the judge.

The judge, Navy Captain Aaron Rugh, adjourned the hearing without ruling yet on the defense motions. But Rugh said he had already found the prosecution’s conduct amounted to a violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial under the US constitution.

Even if the judge refuses to dismiss the case, removing the lead prosecutor, Navy Commander Christopher Czaplak, would probably result in a lengthy delay.

A ruling on the motions could come any time, and momentum seemed to be moving the favor of the defense.

At the end of Thursday’s proceedings, the judge unexpectedly ordered Gallagher released from base confinement at a nearby military hospital center in San Diego while he awaits trial.

He was transferred there from a military brig at a Marine Corps air station in California in March at the direction of Trump, who cited Gallagher’s “past service to our country.”

Trump last Friday said he was considering pardons for a number of service members accused of war crimes, and Gallagher’s case is widely believed to be one of the cases under review.


16 dead in crush at Madagascar independence day rally

Updated 8 min 10 sec ago
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16 dead in crush at Madagascar independence day rally

  • The accident occurred outside Mahamasina Stadium, where several thousand people had gathered for a concert following the traditional military parade held to mark National Day

ANTANANARIVO: At least 16 people were crushed to death and dozens injured in Madagascar on Wednesday at a stadium hosting national independence day celebrations in the capital Antananarivo.
The bodies of sixteen victims, including three children, were stored at the mortuary of HJRA hospital in the city, AFP journalists said.
Hospital director Oliva Alison Rakoto had earlier reported 15 dead and 80 wounded.
According to witnesses at the hospital, the accident occurred in the afternoon outside the Mahamasina stadium, where several thousand people had gathered for a concert following the traditional military parade held to mark the national holiday.
At the end of a military parade, security forces opened the gates to allow spectators to leave the enclosure, causing the crowd to mass outside the stadium, witnesses said.
The police then immediately closed the gates and blocked the crowd, witnesses said, causing a deadly pile up.
“When the organizers opened the gate, we were in the front row, in the queue,” said Jean Claude Etienne Rakotoarimanana, 29, who suffered bruises from the crush.
“Suddenly people ran to get in front of us. They shoved us, some even punched us and pulled us,” he added, saying he then fainted.
In September 2018, a deadly crush killed one person and injured 30 people in similar circumstances at the entrance of the same stadium during a football match between Madagascar and Senegal.