SAN DIEGO: A Navy SEAL platoon leader court-martialed on war crimes charges was unexpectedly ordered released from base confinement in San Diego on Thursday, 11 days before he is due to stand trial in a case that has attracted President Donald Trump’s attention.
The presiding judge, a Navy captain, freed Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher at the end of a five-hour pre-trial hearing on defence motions stemming from his lawyers’ accusations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Gallagher’s team says Navy prosecutors and their investigators illegally snooped on the defence and reporters in a transgression that merits dismissal of the charges or disqualification of the lead prosecutor from the case.
The judge, Captain Aaron Rugh, adjourned the hearing for the day without ruling on those requests.
Instead, to the apparent surprise of everyone present, the judge declared, “As an additional remedy to the interference from the prosecution, I order the release of Chief Gallagher.”
Many in the courtroom gasped, including the defendant’s wife, Andrea Gallagher, who burst into tears.
Her husband, dressed in his Navy summer whites uniform, smiled broadly.
While Gallagher declined comment on the advice of attorneys, his wife spoke briefly with reporters, saying, “We have been utterly terrorized by this entire farce of a case.”
Gallagher, 39, a decorated career combat veteran who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, had been restricted to base at the nearby Naval Medical Centre San Diego since late March.
He was transferred there from a military brig at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California at the direction of Trump, who ordered less-restrictive confinement while Gallagher awaited trial “in honour of his past service to our country.”
Trump has said he is considering pardons for a number of service members accused of war crimes, and media reports have cited US officials as saying Gallagher’s is one of the cases under review. — Reuters