A decorated Navy Seal acquitted of murdering an Islamic State captive in Iraq has been demoted after being convicted for posing with the corpse.
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, 40, was given a demotion by a military jury on Wednesday after the Bronze Star recipient acknowledged making ethical and moral mistakes.
He was also handed the maximum penalty for the offence of four months in confinement, though he will serve no jail time because the sentence is less than the time he spent in custody before the trial.
After the court announced the sentence includes a reduction in rank, Gallagher turned to his wife, shook his head and pretended to unpin his “anchors” — the insignia of a chief — and fling them across the courtroom. He then smiled and hugged her.
The sentence will not go into effect until it is approved by the commanding officer overseeing the court-martial.
Gallagher’s lawyers said they plan to appeal the punishment that will affect his pension and benefits just as the 19-year veteran plans to retire from the service.
Earlier, Gallagher addressed the jury that acquitted him Tuesday of premeditated murder in the death of the captive and attempted murder and other charges in the shootings of civilians during a 2017 deployment to Iraq.
He also was cleared on charges of impeding the investigation and retaliating against the SEALs who reported him.
The platoon chief told the jury he was fully responsible for his actions on the day he took photos with the body of the 17-year-old militant.
“I put a black eye on the two communities that I love — the US Marine Corps and the US Navy — specifically the SEAL community,” Gallagher said.
I'm ready to bounce back from thisEdward Gallagher
He said he tried to lead by example but didn’t always succeed.
“I’ve made mistakes throughout my 20-year career — tactical, ethical, moral — I’m not perfect but I’ve always bounced back from my mistakes. I’m ready to bounce back from this,” he said.
The photos were taken after Gallagher and other Seal medics provided treatment for the captive who was wounded in an airstrike in 2017 and handed over by Iraqi forces.
One image shows him clutching the hair of the corpse with one hand and holding a knife in another. Prosecutors used the images and text messages that included “got him with my hunting knife” to build a murder case against Gallagher.
Gallagher could have faced life in prison if convicted of murder. The verdict was met with tears and hugs.
President Donald Trump, who intervened earlier this year to have Gallagher moved from the brig to less restrictive confinement, tweeted congratulations to the Seal and his family.
“You have been through much together. Glad I could help!” the president wrote.
The outcome delivered a major blow to one of the Navy’s most high-profile war crimes cases and exposed a generational conflict within the ranks of the elite special operations forces.
Seven Seals from Gallagher’s platoon testified he unexpectedly stabbed the war prisoner in the neck, and later posed with the body in photos.
The defence said Gallagher was framed by junior Seals who fabricated the allegations to oust a chief who was tough on them.