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Navy Seal murder trial witness claims he killed prisoner

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Los Angeles (AFP)

A witness in the court-martial trial of an elite US Navy SEAL charged with killing a captive teenage militant while deployed in Iraq testified on Thursday that it was he -- not the defendant -- who put an end to the boy's life.

Corey Scott, a first class petty officer, told the military court in San Diego that while he had seen Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher stab the wounded Islamic State group fighter in the neck in May 2017, he had killed the boy afterwards.

He testified that he covered the victim's breathing tube with his thumb and then watched him die.

Scott said he did so to spare the boy -- who prosecutors say was about 15 years old -- from suffering or being tortured by Iraqis.

His claim throws a wrench in the prosecution's murder and attempted murder case against Gallagher, who was supposed to be providing medical treatment for the prisoner.

Gallagher, 40, has denied the charges against him and claims disgruntled subordinates made up the allegations because they were unhappy under his command.

Prosecutors on Thursday argued that Scott's version of events was a fabrication and that he was lying to protect Gallagher.

Scott, who has been given immunity from prosecution, acknowledged during questioning that he did not want Gallagher to go to prison.

He said he didn't give his version of events before because he was not directly asked by prosecutors.

The charges against Gallagher, who is also accused of shooting two civilians and firing indiscriminately at other civilians while in Iraq, stem from testimony by men who were under his command in the special operations branch of the US Navy.

According to court documents, some members of the "Alpha" platoon were so horrified by Gallagher's behavior that they tampered with his sniper rifle and fired warning shots to scare civilians away before he had time to open fire on them.

They told investigators that Gallagher would brag about the number of people he had killed.

One platoon mate who testified on Wednesday said he saw Gallagher fatally stab the teen who died. Gallagher allegedly then posed with the boy's body for photographs and texted the pictures to fellow SEALs.

"Good story behind this one," one text message read according to prosecutors. "Got him with my hunting knife."

Gallagher's case has proven divisive in the US, where he remains a war hero to some.

His cause has been championed by around 40 Republican members of Congress, as well as the Fox News channel that is popular among conservatives.

President Donald Trump last month also expressed support for Gallagher and hinted that he may be pardoned, if convicted.

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