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.”


Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

Updated 44 min 37 sec ago

Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

  • Al Jazeera journalists under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur
  • The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3

KUALA LUMPUR: Six members of staff from state-owned Qatari news broadcaster Al Jazeera were questioned by police in Malaysia on Friday.

They are under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The documentary has ignited a backlash among the public,” said national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador. “During our investigation, we found out there were inaccuracies in the documentary that were aimed at creating a bad image of Malaysia.”

He said police have discussed the case with the attorney general and added: “We are going to give a fair investigation and a fair opportunity for them to defend themselves, in case the AG wants to file charges against them.”

The journalists, accompanied by their lawyers, were questioned at police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3. It highlighted the plight of undocumented migrants reportedly arrested during raids on COVID-19 lockdown hotspots. Malaysian officials said the report was inaccurate and misleading.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera said it refutes the charges and “stands by the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism” and has “serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of the documentary.” It added: “Al Jazeera is deeply concerned that its staff are now subject to a police investigation.”

However, the incident highlights the broadcaster’s double standards in reporting issues about migrant workers. When Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Qatar in February of failing to implement a system to ensure construction companies pay migrant workers on time, the issue was not highlighted by Al Jazeera, the headquarters of which is in Doha.

On May 23, migrant workers staged a rare protest in Qatar over unpaid wages but Al Jazeera did not send reporters to interview the demonstrators.

Also in May, HRW said that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha Central Prison were exacerbating the COVID-19 threat. The organization urged Qatar to reduce the size of prison populations and ensure inmates have access to adequate medical care, along with masks, sanitizer and gloves. Again Al Jazeera did not focus on the issue.

Activists and civil-society groups criticized the Malaysian government for its heavy-handed move against Al Jazeera.

“The Malaysian government should stop trying to intimidate the media when it reports something the powers that be don’t like,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. “The reality is Malaysia has treated migrant workers very shoddily and Al Jazeera has caught them out on it.”

Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia program officer for freedom of speech advocacy group Article 19, said the action against Al Jazeera is alarming and akin to “shooting the messenger.”

She added: “The government should instead initiate an independent inquiry into the issues raised in the documentary.”

There are at least 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, though the true number is thought to be much higher as many are undocumented. They are a source of cheap, low-skilled labor in industries considered dirty and dangerous.