Exclusive: Courts-Martial for Navy SEAL Heroes Still Planned Despite Pressure, Questions

by CHRIS CARTER January 8, 2010
A top military commander has stated that courts-martial for three Navy SEALs charged with allegedly mishandling a terrorist detainee will continue despite pressure from both Congress and the American people.
 
The three SEALs were part of the platoon that captured of Ahmed Hashim Abed, a top al Qaeda leader during a nighttime raid in September. Abed is the suspected mastermind of a 2004 ambush who killed four Blackwater security contractors – including a former SEAL – in Fallujah, Iraq.
 
Petty Officer Matthew McCabe is the only SEAL accused of actually assaulting Abed, and also faces charges of dereliction of duty and making a false statement. According to the Newport News Daily Press, court documents state that McCabe's alleged assault amounts to a punch in the stomach.
 
Petty Officers Julio Huertas and Jonathan Keefe also face charges of dereliction and making a false statement. Huertas has a third charge that is pending investigation.
 
The trial is still set to continue despite a massive outpouring of public support. Thirty thousand Americans have signed Congressman Dan Burton's (R – Ind.) online petition calling for the military to end the prosecution. In December, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R – Calif.) sent a letter signed by 33 members of Congress to Defense Secretary Robert Gates requesting intervention. Later that month, Rep. Burton sent another letter, this time signed by 40 representatives asking that the charges be dropped. Over 98,000 people have joined a Facebook group supporting the SEALs, and over 114,000 have signed an online petition at Human Events.
 
“Instead of medals and commendations, our heroes are being met with twisted jurisprudence,” wrote Rep. Burton. “This sends a backwards message to our men and women in the military who are charged with carrying out dangerous missions and must often use aggressive force in dealing with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”
 
Maj. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander of the Army's Special Operations Command Central and the convening authority of the case, responded to the Rep. Burton's letter on December 15th, stating that he is more concerned with an alleged cover-up than he is with Abed's “relatively minor” injuries.
 
Gen. Cleveland wrote that Abed's “alleged injuries were inflicted several hours after the operation had ended, and while in the custody and care of the U.S. at Camp Schweidler's detainee holding facility.” But how could medical personnel determine exactly when Abed so-called injury took place, and how could they know that the injury wasn't self-inflicted, or as a result of his capture?
 
“If the injuries were insignificant, why are the reputations of 3 expert warriors on the line?” asks Kay Day at The US Report. Indeed, Gen. Cleveland could have simply let the matter go, but opted for non-judicial punishment, which the sailors declined; accepting the punishment could have ended their career in special operations.
 
But did the alleged abuse even take place?
 
Lesson 18 of al Qaeda's training manual says to convince the judge that the member was tortured and to complain of mistreatment to the court. It could be that Abed was just doing what he was trained to do – continue the battle from the courtroom (apparently the only environment that SEALs are vulnerable), whether the allegations are true or not. Unfortunately, it appears that the Pentagon is willing to risk the careers of three of the nation's best warriors in order to find out as anyone above Gen. Cleveland could put an end to the trial as well.
 
Consider the effect this has on not just the special operations community, but also our conventional forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today's battlefield has become an extension of the courtroom for our troops and has already had a significantly negative effect on our warfighting capabilities.
 
Day also asks, “Did military politics and political correctness perhaps play a role in their raising the allegations?”
 
Entirely likely. – especially when we consider the military's PC reaction to November's Fort Hood massacre, where Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire, killing 13 and wounded dozens more. Rather than asking commanders to be on the lookout for more jihadist activity from within the ranks, Army Gen. George Casey asked them to watch for a backlash against Muslim soldiers. Gen. Casey also said that “as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.” As to military politics, the current administration's view of “engaging the enemy” is not done at gunpoint, but diplomatically. Therefore, it behooves military leaders to behave accordingly in order to earn their stars.
 
Worse than a perceived loss of the Gen. Casey's beloved “diversity” is the loss of our military's desire to serve and fight. The Pentagon must take into consideration the loss of morale and unit integrity that today's Armed Forces experience because of cases like these. A soldier that is expected to fight both on the battlefield and in the court room can not win a war.
 
As of this writing, the trial is set to begin January 19th. Legal defense funds have been established to help the SEALs fight this battle. See here and here.
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Chris Carter hosts the talk radio program Unto the Breach, which covers international terrorism and issues of national security. He is a research analyst at the Counterterrorism Research Center of the Family Security Foundation. He also serves on the information committee of the 2010 Medal of Honor Convention project, and writes for The US Report. Visit him online at The Victory Institute.

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