A decorated Navy SEAL suddenly plunged a knife into the neck of a wounded young Islamic State prisoner, killing him, and later scoffed that he was “just an ISIS dirtbag,” former comrades testified at a war crimes trial.
Dylan Dille and Craig Miller took the stand Wednesday at the San Diego court-martial of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder stemming from his 2017 tour of duty in Iraq.
More former SEALs were expected to testify on Thursday in a case that has drawn the attention of President Donald Trump and revealed a rare rift in the typically tight-knit elite special forces.
Testifying on the second day of trial, Dille said when a radio call announced the prisoner was wounded on May 3, 2017, Gallagher replied: “Don’t touch him, he’s all mine.” The captive was on the hood of a Humvee fading in an out of consciousness with only a minor leg wound visible when Iraqi forces delivered him to a SEAL compound in Mosul.
Dille said he was not the grizzled warrior he expected to find.
“He looked about 12 years old,” Dille said. “He had a wristwatch around his bicep. He was rail thin.” Gallagher, a trained medic, began treating the boy’s injuries. When he applied pressure to his leg wound, the boy shot up in pain.
Miller, a then-Special Warfare Operator 1st Class who has since been promoted to chief, said he put his foot on the boy’s chest to keep him down.
Miller briefly stepped away and said when he returned he saw Gallagher unexpectedly plunge a knife twice into the boy’s neck “right here on the right side in the jugular vein,” he said tapping the spot above the collar of his dress whites.
Blood spurted out and another SEAL jumped back and grabbed his medical bag, Miller said.
Defence lawyers say Gallagher treated the prisoner for a collapsed lung suffered in a blast from an air strike. He made an incision in his throat to insert a tube to clear the airway. They claim that disgruntled sailors fabricated the murder accusations because he was a demanding platoon leader and they didn’t want him promoted.
Miller said he immediately reported the stabbing to an officer but didn’t pursue a more formal complaint until months after returning from deployment. He acknowledged he never took photos of the enemy’s wounds or tried to document the incident. No corpse was ever recovered, no autopsy was performed and no forensic evidence was gathered.
Miller struggled with recalling details from that day. He didn’t remember the platoon flying a drone over the dead body — not even after seeing a video in court that showed him smiling nearby.
After the boy died, Gallagher’s re-enlistment ceremony was conducted next to the corpse. Miller and other troops were in photos of the event.
Later that day, Dille said Gallagher confronted him and other senior enlisted men and said he knew they were upset with what happened.
“This was just an ISIS dirtbag,” Dille said Gallagher told the group.
Defence lawyer Tim Parlatore questioned why Dille never confronted Gallagher or reported him to superiors until after deployment.
Parlatore also accused Dille, Miller and other officers who discussed concerns about Gallagher in a chat room of coordinating a campaign to oust Gallagher.
“My truth is watertight, Mr Parlatore,” Dille said.
Dille also said that he also believed Gallagher had fired at Iraqi civilians from a sniper’s position several times, including an instance on June 18, 2017, when an old man was shot by the Tigris River.
Dille was also a sniper and was near Gallagher during the shootings but didn’t see him pull the trigger.
After hearing a gunshot coming from Gallagher’s position and seeing the old man fall, Dille said he looked through his scope and saw the man bleeding through his white clothing. He said Gallagher then radioed that he thought he had missed the old man.
Defense lawyer Marc Mukasey objected to the testimony, saying descriptions of the alleged shootings were “wildly vague.” Gallagher, who served eight tours of duty and earned two Bronze Stars for valor, was in the courtroom in his dress uniform with a chest full of medals. His wife, parents and brother also attended.
His family has lobbied intensely for his freedom, claiming he was being treated unfairly.
Congressional Republicans took up his cause and prevailed on Trump to release Gallagher from the brig into better conditions in a military hospital. Trump also is reportedly considering a pardon for Gallagher.
A judge released Gallagher from custody last month after prosecutors violated his constitutional rights by tracking defense attorney emails in an effort to find who leaked court documents to reporters.