SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Navy SEAL who was acquitted of killing a wounded Islamic State captive but convicted of posing with the corpse told a military jury considering his punishment Wednesday that he has made “tactical, ethical, moral” mistakes but learned from them.
Special Operator Edward Gallagher, who did not testify during his two-week court-martial, addressed the jurors a day after they acquitted him of murder, attempted murder and other counts stemming from an incident during a 2017 deployment to Iraq.
“I put a black eye on the two communities that I love — the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy — specifically the SEAL community,” he said.
He said he tried to lead by example but didn’t always succeed.
“I’ve made mistakes throughout my 20-year career — tactical, ethical, moral — I’m not perfect but I’ve always bounced back from my mistakes. I’m ready to bounce back from this,” he said.
The jury was considering whether Gallagher should face jail time or lesser punishment.
A Navy prosecutor asked only for a reduction in rank, not confinement. The defense noted that Gallagher has already spent 201 days in pretrial confinement and recommended no punishment.
Gallagher told the jury he takes full responsibility for his actions on the day he took photos with the body of the 17-year-old militant.
One image shows him clutching the hair of the corpse with one hand and holding a knife in another.
The photos were taken after Gallagher and other SEALs provided medical treatment for the captive who was wounded in an air strike in 2017 and handed over by Iraqi forces.
The prosecutor, Lt. Brian John, said Gallagher was the platoon chief and should not have been the centerpiece of the photos in which nearly all the members posed with the body. John said Gallagher should have stopped the photos from being taken.
“For that reason, he no longer deserves to wear anchors,” the prosecutor said, referring to the insignia worn by chiefs. A reduction in rank would drop him to senior enlisted officer and reduce his pay.
John said the photos had the potential to be used as propaganda by Islamic State and be harmful to U.S. forces overseas.
Tuesday’s verdict clearing Gallagher of the most serious charges was met with an outpouring of emotion.
President Donald Trump, who intervened earlier this year to have Gallagher moved from the brig to less restrictive confinement, tweeted congratulations to the SEAL and his family.
“You have been through much together. Glad I could help!” the president wrote.
The outcome dealt a major blow to one of the Navy’s most high-profile war crimes cases and exposed a generational conflict within the ranks of the elite special operations forces.
Gallagher could face up to four months imprisonment for the single conviction along with a reduction in rank, forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay and a reprimand.
In the military justice system, the jury decides the sentence.
Asked in an interview Wednesday on Fox & Friends what his message might be to future Navy SEALs, Gallagher said he would tell them that “loyalty is a trait that seems to be lost. … You’re there to watch your brother’s back, and he’s there to watch your back.”
Speaking of his accusers, Gallagher said, “this small group of SEALs that decided to concoct this story in no way, shape or form represent the community that I love.”
Gallagher also thanked Fox News “for being behind us from day one,” and also thanked Trump along with Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Ralph Norman of South Carolina.
His wife, Andrea Gallagher, has vowed to continue to take action over what she has described as prosecutorial misconduct and a shoddy investigation that led to her husband going to trial. She said she wants Naval Special Warfare Group 1 Commodore Capt. Matthew D. Rosenbloom to resign, among other things.
Defense lawyers said Gallagher was framed by junior disgruntled platoon members who fabricated the allegations to oust their chief. They said the lead investigator built the probe around their stories instead of seeking the truth.
They said there was no physical evidence to support the allegations because no corpse was ever recovered and examined by a pathologist.
The prosecution said Gallagher was incriminated by his own text messages and photos, including one of him holding the dead militant up by the hair and clutching a knife in his other hand.
“Got him with my hunting knife,” Gallagher wrote in a text with the photo.
The defense said it was just gallows humor and pointed out that almost all platoon members who testified against him also posed with the corpse.
The jury of five Marines and two sailors, including a SEAL, is comprised mostly of seasoned combat veterans who served in Iraq. Several lost friends in war.
Melley and AP writer John Antczak contributed to this report from Los Angeles.