SAN DIEGO (AP) — A military judge on Tuesday asked the Navy to address claims that allegations from a potential government witness were being leaked to the media in the case of a SEAL charged with murder in the 2017 death of an Iraqi war prisoner.
The judge, Captain Aaron Rugh, said the leak is “disconcerting” because violating a protective order could taint the jury, affect testimony and impact whether Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, 39, receives a fair trial. He said the government has “all the power to investigate”.
The Navy said it is investigating and has limited the number of people who have access to the information to stop the leaks.
Defence attorney Phil Stackhouse said the Navy Times received a letter from an attorney representing one of the SEALs expected to testify for the prosecution that detailed his potential testimony. The report came around the same time Stackhouse was given the letter by the prosecution.
The Navy Times reported over the weekend that an officer in Gallagher’s chain of command has said Gallagher called in “false target coordinates” during their 2017 deployment in Iraq, tried to start unnecessary fire-fights with insurgents and was so mentally unstable the officer feared the platoon was at risk.
A second letter from another attorney representing a SEAL was also obtained by the Navy Times. The attorney said the SEAL described how Gallagher threatened former members of the SEAL team and their families. The letter said he was relieved to be questioned about Gallagher’s misconduct because he had assumed Gallagher was being protected by his superiors.
Military prosecutors have charged Gallagher with premeditated murder in the death of the teenage Islamic State (IS) fighter who was handed over to the SEAL team after he was wounded by Iraqi armed forces. They said he stabbed the teen in the neck with a hunting knife.
Gallagher also faces charges in the shooting of two civilians and has been accused of opening fire on crowds during his deployment.
According to the prosecution, members of his SEAL team have said Gallagher went off the rails during his eighth deployment, using questionable tactics, completing a reenlistment ceremony near the body of the dead prisoner and even stealing protein bars and other items from their care packages.
Gallagher has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and said the allegations stem from disgruntled SEALs trying to oust a demanding platoon leader.
Gallagher’s supervisor has been charged for failing to report the alleged murder and holding Gallagher’s reenlistment ceremony with the corpse. His attorney says he denies the allegations.
The Navy Times reported it also has obtained copies of federal search warrants showing investigators are tracking the electronic communication of the SEAL community and have seized several of their mobile phones.
Stackhouse said other material including the charge sheet was also leaked to the media before prosecutors provided it to the defence.
The judge also expressed concern that Gallagher is being mistreated in the brig after his attorneys told the court he was not allowed to shower for days, denied a request to get his hair cut and
has had his medical appointments cancelled.
The attorneys also said the pre-trail detainee was being held with convicts.
Gallagher suffers from back problems and was being treated for traumatic brain injury. The Navy said it would resolve any problems with the brig.
The trial is set to begin February 20.