Troop commander disputes witness stories before defense rests in Navy SEAL’s trial
By ANDREW DYER | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: June 28, 2019
SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — A Navy SEAL troop commander testified under a grant of immunity Friday, contradicting some witnesses in the ongoing murder trial of Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Edward R. Gallagher.
Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, who said he was “close” with Gallagher, was the last witness to offer testimony in the trial. The defense, led by civilian attorney Timothy Parlatore, rested shortly after Breisch stepped down from the witness stand.
Gallagher is charged with premeditated murder, aggravated assault and willful discharge of a firearm in connection to his platoon’s 2017 deployment to Mosul, Iraq, to assist the Iraqi Army’s battle against the Islamic State.
In prior testimony, two SEALs from Gallagher’s platoon testified that their chief stabbed a wounded teenage ISIS fighter in the neck after rendering medical aid to him. Others testified Gallagher shot indiscriminately at civilians, hitting two of them.
Gallagher denies the charges and has pleaded not guilty.
Breisch testified Friday that although he spent little time with Gallagher’s platoon in 2017, his impression was that they were “doing well” and that by the time they returned to San Diego in September of that year, that it had been a successful deployment.
Breisch said he received no reports of the war crimes allegations against Gallagher while they were in Iraq. He said complaints SEALs made about their chief never rose above petty, personal grievances until months after they returned.
The troop commander testified that shortly after the SEALs returned, rumors and grumblings swirled among his men. When word got out that Gallagher was being considered for a Silver Star, Chief Petty Officer Craig Miller — then a petty officer 1st class — began complaining about Gallagher’s tactics on the battlefield.
Breisch testified Miller frequently complained to him about Gallagher. When Miller found out Gallagher might be advanced to senior chief, he again came to speak with Breisch.
Miller’s complaints were “personal, petty and centered on tactics,” Breisch testified.
Breisch said not a week went by when he didn’t hear Miller or other SEALs complaining about Gallagher.
Breisch said he made it clear to Miller that without criminal allegations, the command would not launch an investigation. Breisch said Miller finally told him about the stabbing on April 6, 2018.
“(Miller) just blurted out, vomited out, ‘Eddie stabbed a prisoner,” Breisch said.
“There it is,” Breisch said he told Miller that day.
Breisch’s story contradicts Miller’s, who said on the stand that he notified his chain of command about the alleged stabbing in October 2017.
Cmdr. Jeff Pietrzyk, a prosecutor, pointed out that Breisch’s testimony also contradicts another defense witness, SEAL Master Chief Brian Alazzawi.
Alazzawi testified earlier this week that Breisch was aware of the stabbing allegations as early as October 2017.
Alazzawi said that when he learned a group of SEALs were on their way to report the allegations to the commodore, Breisch ordered him to intervene before they could.
Breisch said he notified Gallagher he was launching an investigation on April 5, 2018 — a full day before Breisch said Miller told him about the stabbing.
During cross-examination, Breisch confirmed the dates were accurate and that he ordered the investigation before being informed about the alleged stabbing.
Breisch testified that he had also heard about SEALs taking photos with dead bodies during deployment and had ordered Lt. Jacob Portier to have them deleted.
Breisch later said he didn’t know what was in the photos.
After three days of defense witness testimony, Parlatore rested his case. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will meet off the record Saturday to finalize jury instructions and closing arguments are expected to commence Monday.