Timeline: ‘Sewing Circle’ to murder case against Navy SEAL
The case against Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a sniper and medic accused of stabbing to death a wounded Islamic State fighter, caused fissures in the normally cohesive and secretive community of Navy SEALS, some of the world’s best trained soldiers who often are called on for the most difficult assignments Iraq, Afghanistan and other places.
Other SEALS were responsible for providing incriminating information that led to a formal investigation that produced murder and other charges against Gallagher. Just before the trial began, President Donald Trump considered a pardon for Gallagher but demurred as critics said it would undermine the military justice system. On Tuesday, a jury acquitted Gallagher of murder, attempted murder for allegedly shooting Iraqi civilians and other charges.
Key dates in the case against Gallagher:
MAY 3, 2017
Iraqi troops capture an IS fighter, wounded in an airstrike, and bring him to the SEAL compound for medical treatment. Gallagher is the first to treat him. Video shot by a fellow medic shows Gallagher kneeling at the fighter’s side and rendering aid. Two SEALs would testify that they saw him unexpectedly plunge his hunting knife into the militant’s neck.
JUNE 20, 2017
Two SEAL snipers hear shots from the neighboring sniper tower where Gallagher was positioned. Looking through their scopes they see an old man carting a water jug fall to the ground with a blood stain on his back, according to testimony. The snipers then say they heard Gallagher say over the radio, “You guys missed him but I got him.” The SEALs did not see Gallagher pull the trigger.
After their deployment ended, a WhatsApp chat group of SEALS who served under Gallagher and called themselves “The Sewing Circle” was formed to discuss alleged war crimes they said Gallagher committed. Their discussions eventually led to formal allegations that Gallagher murdered the wounded Islamic State captive in his care and shot Iraqi civilians.
JAN. 4, 2019
Gallagher pleads not guilty to premeditated murder and other charges.
JAN. 22, 2019
The Navy officer who supervised Gallagher, Lt. Jacob Portier, is charged with various offenses tied to the case, including allegations he conducted the SEAL’s re-enlistment ceremony next to the corpse of the captured IS fighter and encouraged enlisted personnel to pose for photos with the body. Portier also is accused of failing to report a war crime, destroying evidence and impeding the investigation of Gallagher. According to his attorney, Portier was the first to report the alleged war crimes to superiors.
MARCH 30, 2019
President Donald Trump intervenes to move Gallagher from the brig to less restrictive confinement in a Navy hospital. Trump said in a tweet that it was to honor his past service to the country.
MAY 8, 2019
Republican U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, a former combat Marine who served in Iraq, says he will ask Trump to pardon Gallagher if he is found guilty of murder.
MAY 24, 2019
Trump says he has been considering pardons for several American military members accused of war crimes. Memorial Day is seen as likely timing for any pardons but it passes with no action from the president.
MAY 25, 2019
Hunter acknowledges during a town hall in his San Diego-area district that he took a photo with a dead combatant during his time as a Marine.
JUNE 18, 2019
Gallagher’s trial begins. During opening statements, prosecutor Lt. Brian John projects photos of the dead Islamic State fighter in the military courtroom, along with a text message Gallagher sent to friends with the image.
“Good story behind this,” Gallagher wrote. “Got him with my hunting knife.”
The defense tells the jury that Gallagher treated the militant’s wounds, didn’t kill him and is being framed by disgruntled SEALs who wanted to oust their platoon chief.
JUNE 19, 2019
A former comrade testifies that Gallagher told fellow troops that if they encountered a wounded enemy, he wanted medics to know how “to nurse him to death.”
JUNE 20, 2019
Another Navy SEAL stuns the courtroom by saying he actually killed the wounded fighter, not Gallagher. Special Operator 1st Class Corey Scott says he asphyxiated the teen in an act of mercy after Gallagher unexpectedly stabbed him in the neck area. Prosecutors accuse him of lying and say he could face a perjury trial.
JUNE 21, 2019
Two Navy SEALs testify that Gallagher gunned down a young girl and an elderly man in Iraq in 2017 from his sniper’s perch, though neither witnessed him pull the trigger. A defense attorney says the testimony is unreliable because no witness reported seeing Gallagher fire. He accuses the SEALs of organizing a smear campaign through the “Sewing Circle.”
JUNE 27, 2019
An Iraqi general who had handed over the wounded fighter to the SEALs testifies Gallagher did not stab him. A Marine attached to the team also says he watched the prisoner being treated and never saw Gallagher stab him.
JULY 2, 2019
After less than two days of deliberations, a jury of five Marines and two sailors — one of them a SEAL —acquits Gallagher of murder, two attempted murder counts and three other charges. He’s convicted of posing for a photo with the body of the IS fighter.