SAN DIEGO — Prosecutors said on Friday they will not drop premeditated murder charges against a Navy SEAL charged with stabbing to death a teenaged Islamic State militant in Iraq in 2017 after another SEAL told a court martial he killed the prisoner.
Navy SEAL medic Corey Scott told the court on Thursday the fighter was breathing through a tube when Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher stabbed him in the neck.
Scott said the young man’s injuries - a leg wound and collapsed lung - were not life threatening, but that he held his thumb over the breathing tube until the prisoner quit breathing. He said he did it to save the fighter from being tortured by Iraqi forces.
“The government will not be dropping premeditated murder charges against Chief Petty Officer Gallagher, despite petty officer Scott’s testimony,” the Navy said in a statement. “The credibility of a witness is for the jury to decide.”
Scott, like other SEALs in Gallagher’s unit, has been granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony. The prosecution accused Scott in court on Thursday of lying to protect Gallagher, and said his testimony contradicted his previous statements to them and the testimony of other SEALs.
The Islamic State fighter had been captured by Iraqi forces following house-to-house fighting in Mosul and dumped on the ground at a base outside the Iraqi city, the prosecution said in its opening statement on Monday.
Prosecutors say Gallagher, 39, who began his 18-year career as a medic, briefly treated the young Islamic State fighter, then pulled out his knife and stabbed him in the neck.
The judge on Thursday denied an immediate defense motion to dismiss the case.
MURDER OR MUTINY?
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The seven-sailor jury at the court martial must decide whether the fighter’s death was murder as alleged by the prosecution or a mutiny by sailors under Gallagher’s command in Iraq, as the defense contends.
Gallagher could face life in prison if convicted.
Defense attorney Tim Parlatore said on Thursday the surprising admission from Scott that he had asphyxiated the wounded fighter showed that the prosecution never asked about the cause of death and the Navy Criminal Investigation service had gone into the case with minds made up.
Gallagher’ wife, Andrea, told reporters after Thursday’s court session ended: “We’ve been patiently waiting for the truth to come out. It’s been lies, half-truths and cover-ups till now.”
Gallagher is also charged with attempted murder in the wounding of two civilians, a schoolgirl and an elderly man, shot from a sniper’s perch in Iraq.
The court martial has drawn national attention - including that of President Donald Trump who said last month that he was considering pardons for a number of military service members accused of war crimes; Gallagher’s case was believed to be one of those under review.
(Reporting by Marty Graham; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)