Navy SEAL Pleads Not Guilty, Witnesses Vary in Detainee Abuse Case

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The prosecution rested last Wednesday in the case of a Navy SEAL accused of abusing a military detainee in Iraq.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe is accused of having punched Ahmed Hashim Abed in the stomach and the face, resulting in a his falling to the ground with a split lip. According to prosecutors, McCabe then walked away, leaving the detainee bleeding on the floor.

Abed was being held in United States custody after his November 2009 arrest in Iraq; he was accused of masterminding the 2004 killings of four Blackwater security guards in Falluja, Iraq. In that incident, a convoy guarded by the four Americans, who were employed as civilian contractors, was ambushed. The four were killed with hand grenades and rifles, after which their bodies were burned and paraded through the streets of Falluja before two of them were hung from a bridge over the Euphrates river.

McCabe is the last of three Navy SEALs to be tried for his role in the alleged abuse against prisoner Ahmed Hashim Abed. The others, Petty Officer Julio Heurtas and Petty Officer Jonathan Keefe, had been charged with dereliction of duty and impeding an investigation, not with actually abusing Abed. They were acquitted last month.

Witnesses in the court martial of McCabe gave conflicting testimony. Some, including the person whose job it was to receive and process the detainees, said that there was nothing remarkable about Abed’s injuries. Others, including Navy Petty Officer Kevin DeMartino, testified that they saw McCabe punch the prisoner in the abdomen.

DeMartino, who had been in charge of maintaining custody of the prisoner, testified that he stepped outside for a moment, and saw the alleged punch occur upon his return. DeMartino’s testimony, however, was called in question by the defense attorney, since he had previously lied to investigators who inquired as to reason blood was found on Abed’s clothing. DeMartino had also testified in the courts-martial of Heurtas and Keefe, testimony that was inconsistent with his most recent statements about McCabe.

“It was either be in the good graces of the SEALs or being in the good graces of God,” said DeMartino, when asked about his decision to come clean.

Another witness who supported DeMartino’s testimony was a medic, who had photographed Abed during his intake and noticed a cut or split at the top of the detainee’s lip.

Neither McCabe nor Abed are expected to take the stand in the court-martial proceeding. McCabe, who is charged with assault, dereliction of duty and lying to investigators, has pleaded not guilty. If he is convicted, he could be sentenced to a year in military prison, a cut in pay, demotion of rank, and a bad conduct discharge. If found innocent of the charges, however, he will be able to continue Navy SEAL service, with record of the case expunged from his personnel file.

 

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