Congress

Rep. Duncan Hunter defends Navy SEAL charged with murder of teenaged ISIS fighter

Prosecutors say Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher stabbed the fighter and posed for photos with his body

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., argued helmet footage exonerates Special Warfares Operator Chief Edward Gallagher premeditated murder. Gallagher faces a trial by court-martial this month for war crimes. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Duncan Hunter held a screening for Capitol Hill lawmakers Wednesday, showing combat footage of a moment when military prosecutors say a Navy SEAL stabbed a teenage captive to death.

Hunter told reporters at a press conference that video captured on a helmet camera exonerates Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher of the alleged war crime. Gallagher faces a trial by court-martial at Naval Base San Diego on May 28 for premeditated murder and other charges.

“This is the ‘smoking gun’ and there’s no gun whatsoever,” Hunter said. The congressman accused the Navy of “misleading Congress regarding the evidence in this case.”

Hunter, whose district incorporates the suburbs of San Diego, has championed Gallagher’s case.

A Navy criminal investigation accused Gallagher of stabbing and killing a captured Islamic State fighter — estimated to be about 16 years old — several times with his hunting knife before posing for pictures with the body, according to details reported by The New York Times.

Hunter said the video shows Gallagher “stabilizing an ISIS terrorist.” The video has not been released to the public. The body was never recovered.

The 50th District Republican said he would seek Trump’s pardon for Gallagher should he be convicted, and attributed the charges Gallagher faces to a “rigged” military justice system.

Navy SEALs junior to Gallagher are expected to testify that he also indiscriminately targeted civilians with a sniper rifle. SEALs who served with Gallagher told military investigators they saw him shoot an adolescent girl wearing a flower-print hijab and an elderly man, according to the Navy Times

Gallagher also faces charges that he wrongfully intimidated members of his platoon from reporting his actions. 

Attorneys for Gallagher argue their own investigation will show “a crime simply didn’t happen,” the Navy Times reported.

A group of 40 Republican lawmakers wrote a letter to the U.S. Navy in March requesting Gallagher be released from pre-trial confinement, before details of the Navy’s investigation had been publicly reported. 

After the press conference Wednesday, Hunter thanked six Republican lawmakers on his Twitter account: Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Rep. Daniel Crenshaw of Texas, Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, and Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana.

Trump issued a full pardon this week for former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, who was convicted in 2009 of premeditated murder for fatally shooting an unarmed captive due for release while serving in Iraq.

The American Civil Liberties Union warned in a statement Wednesday that the pardon could signal to U.S. troops that they can violate the military’s own code of justice without consequence.

Hunter’s political future has been imperiled by 60 federal charges related to spending more than $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses. He faces trial in September.

During his re-election campaign last year, he accused his opponent of being a terrorist sympathizer who would “infiltrate” Congress in ads widely decried as bigoted. Hunter has doubled down on that strategy this cycle.

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