Navy prosecutor is dismissed from war crimes case against decorated SEAL Edward ‘Eddie’ Gallagher
Navy Judge Aaron Rugh has removed Cmdr. Chris Czaplak as prosecutor in the case of Edward “Eddie” Gallagher, a Navy SEAL accused of a series of war crimes including killing a teen ISIS fighter in 2017.
Rugh announced his decision Monday, June 3, in an email to the parties involved.
Tim Parlatore, Gallagher’s lead attorney, had requested the move, accusing prosecutors of a “rogue, relentless, and unlawful cyber campaign” that was used to find the source of news leaks discovered in January. He said that behavior may have violated attorney-client privilege and would hurt Gallagher’s chance for a fair trial.
Gallagher’s defense team also has made motions to consider whether there has been undue command influence in the case from officials in Washington, D.C.; and, ultimately, to dismiss the case.
“He only decided on the removal of the prosecutor related to his activities spying on the defense,” Parlatore said of Rugh. “It’s a step forward but not the ultimate goal. I will not stop until Eddie Gallagher is completely free.”
Parlatore said Rugh is expected to rule on the other motions on Wednesday.
“The judge ruled that the threat of investigation into alleged prosecutorial misconduct against Cmdr. Chris Czaplak could be seen as a conflict of interest,” Navy officials said.
Navy spokesman Brian O’Rourke, Monday evening, said the Navy is complying with the judge’s order.
“The senior trial counsel will be replaced by a qualified military attorney,” O’Rourke said. “Chief Petty Officer Gallagher is entitled to a fair trial and the Navy is committed to that principle.”
O’Rourke previously said if the prosecutor were removed from the case it would delay Gallagher’s court-martial. The trial is set to start June 10.
Rugh’s decision Monday is the latest in a series of twists in the case. Most recently, the judge freed Gallagher from custody, on Thursday, May 30, citing interference by prosecutors.
Parlatore and Marc Mukasey, a member of President Donald Trump’s legal team, discovered evidence in recent weeks that showed Czaplak had attached tracking devices to emails that were sent to at least 13 attorneys and the editor of the Navy Times. Czaplak admitted to the tracking but downplayed the technology’s capabilities. In court, Navy prosecutors said the email “auditing tools” they used were designed to detect the flow of emails without revealing their content.
“They’re calling it an audit tool when it is really a beacon,” Parlatore said previously. “It tracks IP addresses, sees when you open it, who you’re forwarding it to.”
Gallagher, a Special Warfare Operations Chief, was arrested Sept. 11 while being treated at Camp Pendleton’s Intrepid Spirit Center. The 19-year Navy veteran is accused of premeditated murder in the fatal stabbing of a 15-year-old ISIS fighter. At the time, he was serving as a medic with Naval Special Warfare Group One based out of San Diego.
Two other charges — one accusing Gallagher of posing with the corpse of the teen while filming an enlistment video and one accusing him of flying a drone over the teen’s corpse — were thrown out during a Feb. 4 hearing.
Gallagher is also charged with shooting a man in June 2017 and a woman in July of that year, both civilians classified as “noncombatants,” according to charge sheets.
On Jan. 4, Gallagher was arraigned on charges of premeditated murder and assault with a deadly weapon. He pleaded “not guilty” to all war crimes he is accused of committing during his 2017 deployment in Iraq.