Indicted Lawmaker Defends Navy SEAL Charged with Premeditated Murder

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., speaks to the media Jan. 10, 2017, in Washington, D.C.  Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., speaks to the media Jan. 10, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, said he is skeptical of the charges brought against a Navy SEAL accused of killing an Islamic State fighter, among other war crimes, and has called for better treatment of the special operator while he remains confined.

Hunter said Friday that the case of Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Gallagher must be independent of the Navy's justice system and President Donald Trump should review the case himself.

Hunter, a veteran Marine officer, said he has "personally reviewed" Gallagher's case and believes that overzealousness by the Navy Judge Advocate General Corps is creating bias in how the case is being handled.

"I am significantly concerned that this is another example of the over-aggressiveness of the Navy JAG Corps showing its bias against our warfighters," he said in a statement. "Due to the verifiable political nature of the Navy's justice system, I believe that Chief Gallagher's matter needs to be taken away from the Navy and President Trump himself needs to personally review and dismiss this case, taking an American hero out of a prison cell and [putting him] back on the front lines where he belongs."

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The congressman plans to visit Gallagher at Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar, California, where he is being held, Hunter's spokesman Michael Harrison told Military.com on Monday.

"Congressman Hunter is always going to stand up for our men and women in uniform when he feels an injustice is taking place," Harrison said in an email.

Gallagher, 39, was arraigned last week. His trial is set to begin Feb. 19.

The 19-year Navy veteran has been charged with four counts of violating military law, including premeditated murder.

During a deployment to Mosul, Iraq, in May 2017, Gallagher allegedly killed an ISIS fighter with his hunting knife by stabbing him in the neck and later boasted about the incident by texting a photo of the dead fighter. "Got him with my hunting knife," he wrote alongside the photo.

Gallagher also is charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against two civilians in Iraq after he allegedly shot and wounded them during separate instances weeks following the stabbing.

Hunter, who has been in touch with Gallagher's family, said documentation of the crimes is weak and lacks physical evidence.

"Chief Gallagher stands accused of murder in the killing of a verified ISIS combatant in a war zone based on inconsistent testimony and without any physical evidence," the lawmaker said.

"It is important to remember that this ISIS combatant was engaged in an extensive firefight with Chief Gallagher's team and was already significantly injured when captured. No credible evidence has been provided that this ISIS fighter was murdered, as opposed to dying from his terrorist actions," Hunter said.

Gallagher was treating the fighter after an airstrike occurred on a building in Mosul, according to Task & Purpose, citing court documents. Gallagher, part of SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon, was operating with the Iraqi Emergency Response Division when he stabbed the fighter, who had been hit with shrapnel, Task & Purpose said.

Witnesses with the team told investigators they were "in disbelief" Gallagher took such actions.

Hunter believes the punishment, and Gallagher's treatment, has been unjust.

"I have also received reports that Chief Gallagher is being confined to the brig where, allegedly, he has not been provided with quality access to medical care, mental health services or legal representation," Hunter said. "I am reviewing this situation further. If true, it is completely unacceptable and, without hesitation, I will introduce legislation to ensure this situation is not repeated.

"South American criminal illegal aliens are provided with better access to legal representation than our nation's elite warriors because bureaucratic lawyers in the Navy justice system see this situation as an opportunity to make their name and advance their career," he said.

Hunter, who represents California's 50th Congressional District, has not been immune to scandal himself.

Hunter won re-election in November despite facing a criminal indictment involving allegations of misusing campaign funds for personal expenses.

Hunter and his wife, Margaret, allegedly used campaign funds -- roughly $250,000 -- to pay for groceries, bar tabs, vacations in Italy and London, dentist bills, golf shorts and school tuition for their children.

The 48-page federal indictment filed in August lists 60 counts of misuse of campaign donor money, including labeling a personal purchase as a donation to help wounded veterans.

Hunter's trial is set to begin in September.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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