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U.S. Navy SEAL demoted for posing with dead prisoner

Reuters logo Reuters 7/3/2019 By Marty Graham
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SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy SEAL platoon commander acquitted of murdering a captured Islamic State fighter but convicted of unlawfully posing for photos with his dead body was sentenced on Wednesday to a demotion in rank and pay.

The penalty imposed by a seven-member jury of U.S. Marines and Navy personnel spared the defendant, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, from any prison time beyond the nearly seven months he had already served in pretrial custody.

The same jury found Gallagher not guilty on Tuesday of murder, attempted murder and other charges, including deliberately shooting at unarmed civilians and obstruction of justice. But he was found guilty of posing for unofficial pictures with a human casualty.

That offense, stemming from photos he and fellow SEAL members took with the corpse of the Iraqi prisoner whom Gallagher was acquitted of slaying, carries a maximum sentence of four months' imprisonment.

Instead, he will receive a one-step demotion in his rank from chief petty officer to petty officer first class, presumably accompanied by a corresponding reduction in his pay. The sentence also carries a two-month forfeiture of his salary, a sum of nearly $5,400.

Still, the outcome of the court-martial, capped by a three-week trial on various war crimes charges, marked a significant legal victory for Gallagher, 40, who would have faced a possible life sentence had he been found guilty of murder or attempted murder.

a man and a woman posing for a picture: Navy SEAL acquitted of major charges

Navy SEAL acquitted of major charges
© Reuters/JOHN GASTALDO
U.S. President Donald Trump, who intervened months ago to order Gallagher freed from pretrial detention, hailed the platoon leader on his acquittal in a Twitter post hours before sentencing.

"Congratulations to Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher, his wonderful wife Andrea, and his entire family. You have been through much together. Glad I could help!" Trump wrote.

Gallagher, who was arrested last year, was moved in March from a military brig to less restrictive confinement at a Navy base at Trump's direction in recognition of what the president called the platoon leader's "past service to our country."

The court-martial judge later released Gallagher altogether, citing pretrial prosecutorial misconduct.

Trump said in May he was considering pardons for a number of U.S. military personnel accused of war crimes, and Gallagher's case was widely believed to be one of those under review.

Gallagher, a decorated career combat veteran, has been in the military 19 years and is a year away from retirement.

Before pronouncing sentence, the jury heard from two doctors specializing in brain injuries. They said Gallagher suffered repeated concussions during his combat career, putting him at high risk of brain degeneration and visual impairments that will require ongoing medical attention.

Gallagher, who did not testify in his own defense, insisted his accusers were disgruntled subordinates with no prior battlefield experience and had fabricated allegations against him over grievances with his leadership style and tactics.

The chief petty officer was arrested in 2018, more than a year after returning from his eighth overseas deployment in Mosul, in northern Iraq.

(Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego, additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

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