The Navy officer who supervised a SEAL accused of fatally stabbing an Islamic State prisoner in Iraq in 2017 was charged Tuesday with various offenses tied to the case, including allegations he conducted the SEAL’s re-enlistment ceremony next to the corpse and encouraged enlisted personnel to pose for photos with the body.
The court martial for Lt. Jacob Portier began with the arraignment Tuesday at the Navy base in San Diego. Portier also is accused of failing to report a war crime, destroying evidence and impeding the investigation of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher.
Portier’s attorney, Jay Sullivan, said Portier will plead not guilty to all the charges at a later date, which is allowed under military court rules. Both sides agreed to meet again next week to discuss restrictions on information, photos and video from the investigation and whether anything should be classified or kept from the public during the rare trial of an elite special warfare operator.
Sullivan said he plans to object to a protective order in place because it has limited his ability to review the investigation’s documents and interview witnesses about statements that have been made, though he believes there may be things that should be kept from the public and discussed in closed session during the trial.
Sullivan said Portier — who was the officer in charge of Gallagher’s platoon during the deployment — is innocent. Sullivan believes it will come out that the Islamic State fighter was killed in combat operations and Portier was not there.
He also said the re-enlistment ceremony was done legally in a war zone where there may have been other casualties nearby.
“I can tell you he certainly never ordered anybody to appear in any photos with a dead ISIS fighter,” Sullivan said after the arraignment. “I can tell you that a re-enlistment ceremony was done on the battlefield and for a Navy SEAL nothing could be more proud and honorable than re-enlisting to serve your country on the battlefield.”
Gallagher pleaded not guilty earlier this month to charges of premeditated murder and other offenses, including opening fire on crowds of Iraqi civilians, and shooting a female and a male in separate incidents.
Navy prosecutors have painted a picture of a decorated SEAL going off the rails on his eighth deployment, indiscriminately shooting at Iraqi civilians and stabbing to death a captured Islamic State fighter estimated to be 15 years old. They say he also posed with the corpse, including at his re-enlistment ceremony.
His lawyers have said the allegations were made by disgruntled SEALs out to get Gallagher because he was a demanding platoon leader.
Portier’s lawyer said the Naval SEALs have had “extraordinary success” in Iraq. He is concerned the Navy’s prosecution of the case in a public court martial could undermine that, hurt morale and reveal information about the secretive force. He wants the State Department to intervene on behalf of national security. He believes it’s important to determine whether parts of the case, such as operations’ details, tactics, etc., should be only discussed in closed sessions.
“I believe the investigation should be classified,” Sullivan said after the arraignment. “The operations that we do over there is protecting our national security, and parading these warfighters on the stage, I think it puts them at risk and our mission over there at risk.”
Gallagher, who has been jailed since his arrest Sept. 11, will stand trial Feb. 19.