Navy SEAL charged with Iraq war crimes also under investigation in death of Afghan civilian in 2010
By ANDREW DYER | The San Diego Union Tribune | Published: April 23, 2019
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — A Navy SEAL awaiting trial for alleged war crimes in Iraq in 2017 also is being investigated in the shooting death of an Afghan civilian in 2010, according to his defense attorney, who complained to the judge about the investigation last week.
The attorney said during the SEAL’s court-martial last week that he suspects Navy officials were leaking information about the investigation to the media.
Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward R. Gallagher, 39, is awaiting a military trial in San Diego on a charge of premeditated murder for allegedly killing a wounded ISIS fighter in 2017 and on charges of aggravated assault connected to the shooting of two Iraqi civilians and other related charges.
He has pleaded not guilty and denies all those charges. His case has gained national interest, with President Donald Trump recently ordering a less restrictive pre-trial confinement for him.
Gallagher’s lead defense attorney, New York-based Timothy Parlatore, argued at a hearing at Naval Base San Diego last week that the government has been leaking information to the media about an investigation into a 2010 shooting of a goat herder in Afghanistan. Gallagher has not been charged in that case.
The judge in Gallagher’s court-martial, Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh, ruled on Jan. 25 that other allegations involving Gallagher — including the alleged incident in Afghanistan — would not be admissible in his murder trial. He also imposed a protective order over investigative documents and evidence in the case.
Details of the 2010 shooting are laid out in a Naval Criminal Investigative Service summary report covered by that protective order. Part of the report was obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune, with other details confirmed by Parlatore in response to questions about the allegations against Gallagher.
According to the NCIS investigative file discussed at multiple court hearings, several members of Gallagher’s platoon told Navy investigators that Gallagher had routinely bragged about killing people — in and out of battle — including that Gallagher allegedly said he got away with shooting the goat herder in Afghanistan.
Some of those SEALs said they dismissed those claims as embellishments, if not outright fabrications, the report says.
Gallagher’s defense attorneys also have said they believe some of the witnesses lied to investigators or have changed their stories.
Gallagher was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 with an Army unit. According to the portion of an NCIS investigative summary obtained by the Union-Tribune, Navy investigators in May 2018 contacted the Army Criminal Investigation Command after interviewing members of Gallagher’s platoon. The Army told them it had no investigative records involving Gallagher.
However, an Army warrant officer who was in Afghanistan in 2010 and is now facing federal child pornography charges recently came forward with information about a shooting he says he witnessed involving a Navy SEAL on loan to his unit, according to the investigative file.
That officer is Chief Warrant Officer 2 John Rindt, according to the file. Federal court records show that Rindt was arrested in late 2017 on charges of producing and possessing child pornography.
Parlatore confirmed some contents of the NCIS investigative file to defend his client against the 2010 allegation.
According to the report, Rindt claimed that during a 2010 Afghanistan deployment he was in the field alongside a Navy SEAL when they came across a goat herder. When Rindt turned away, he heard the SEAL fire his weapon. He turned back in time to see the civilian fall, the report said.
Parlatore said Rindt described the Navy SEAL he was with to investigators but didn’t give them a name. Rindt’s description, which was contained in the investigative summary, included hair and eye color that matched Gallagher’s — blonde hair and blue eyes — but not matching height.
“I’m duty bound to highlight the portion of the document that says he’s 6 (foot) 3 (inches),” Parlatore said, referring to Rindt’s description of the SEAL. Gallagher is under six feet tall, Parlatore said.
Rindt’s attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Parlatore told the Union-Tribune that the Navy’s investigation into the shooting is an attempt to pin it on Gallagher but it is “pointless.”
Rather than Gallagher, Parlatore said he feels the Navy investigators should be investigated by the Inspector General’s office, for what he believes are leaks to reporters.
Attorneys representing the prosecution declined to comment through a Navy spokesman.
Rugh said Thursday that leaks continue to be a concern for him, because news stories could taint a jury pool. He said he would expand the scope of his protective order to include his own rulings.
Also during the Afghanistan deployment, Gallagher was investigated and cleared of wrongdoing in connection with an unrelated shooting in 2010, Parlatore said.
Gallagher shot at a Taliban commander as the fighter was holding a girl in his arms as a human shield. The shot killed the hostage and the combatant, Parlatore said.
Gallagher felt remorse about the incident, Parlatore said. “He tried to take a head shot; it went low.”
An NCIS spokesman said the agency does not comment on ongoing investigations. An Army spokesman, when asked about Gallagher’s 2010 deployment with an Army unit, referred questions to Naval Special Warfare. A spokeswoman there said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation.
Gallagher’s trial for the charges related to the 2017 killings and shootings in Iraq is scheduled to begin May 28.