Heroic Navy SEALS face one year imprisonment

About a week and a half ago, I wrote about the Navy SEALS who are facing a court martial because they punched one of our most wanted terrorists. The media has been saying that the terrorist was punched in the lip, but the SEALS are being charged with punching him in the midsection.

Ahmed Ashim Habed, the alleged mastermind of the murder of four Blackwater operatives in Fallujah in 2004, was one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq. Either in the process of capturing him, or while he was in captivity, the terrorist claims he was assaulted. There is apparently no physical evidence to back this up, but the military is acting quickly against the three heroes responsible for catching this animal. The following video sums up the situation pretty well:

CNS News has more on the story, including information on how the attorneys for these heroes are getting denied their discovery rights, because the government cant decide whats classified and what isnt. The SEALS face one year military confinement, discharge for bad conduct, and forfeiture of two-thirds of their pay for a year.

The accuser, Ahmed Hashim Abed, is the alleged architect of the murder of four Blackwater USA security guards in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. The bodies of the four Americans were burned and hanged from a bridge for display.

The three Navy SealsMatthew McCabe, Jonathon Keefe, and Julio Huertaswill be arraigned on Monday in Norfolk, Va. They are facing a special court martialwhich is equivalent to a misdemeanor chargeand have each denied the allegations of abuse and cover-up.

The trial date for McCabe, the Seal charged with the alleged assault, is tentatively set for Jan. 19, 2010, McCabe’s attorney Neal Puckett said.

Defense attorneys told CNSNews.com that they are waiting to see the evidence from military prosecutors because it is still under review to determine if it is classified. Even the charges, the only court filings in the case thus far, are still under review.

“The government has not handed over anything,” Huertas’ attorney Monica Lombardi told CNSNews.com. “They are now claiming that things are classified, but they are not saying what’s classified and what’s not classified. I filed my discovery request, and they denied it, pending a classification review. … We have no photographs of the alleged injuries. We have no medical reports of these alleged injuries.

Attorneys for both McCabe and Huertas said they would insist on cross-examining Abed. The Constitution grants Americans the right to face their accuser at a trial.

“If somebody was trying to claim that you assaulted them, but they refused to come into court, what prosecutor in what state would deny you your right to confrontation of the alleged victim?” Lombardi said.

When CNSNews.com asked what would happen if the military declined to bring Abed to the United States to testify for security reasons, Lombardi said, “It would be, at that point, we could ask the judge to dismiss the charges.”

McCabe, a special operations petty officer, second class, is charged with assaulting the detainee for reportedly punching him in the midsection; with dereliction of duty for failure to safeguard the detainee; and with making a false official statement on the matter.

Though news reports differ on whether it was a punch to the gut or a bloody lip, Puckett says the official charge is a punch to the mid-section.

Huertas, a special operations petty officer, first class, is charged with dereliction of duty, making a false official statement and impeding an investigation.

Keefe, a special operations petty officer, second class, is charged with dereliction of duty and making a false official statement.

Under special court-martial rules, all three defendants would face the same maximum penalty, Puckett said, even though the charges against each one deviate slightly. The maximum penalty for the charges would be one year in military confinement, reduction of two-thirds of their pay for a year and discharge from the military for bad conduct.

Lombardi said Huertas greatly appreciates the public outpouring of support since the reports first surfaced of the arrest.

“My client is extremely grateful for all the support from the American public,” Lombardi said. “He’s a career professional who’s just doing his job. It boosts your morale when you know that you go over there and are doing your job and the American public actually does care about what you’re doing. He’s really humbled by it.”

The military first sought non-judicial punishment, called a “captain’s mast.” It would have spared them any chance of imprisonment but would have severely harmed and possibly ended their military careers, Puckett said.

“There was some pressure on them to accept a lesser form of punishment,” Puckett said. “That would have meant that some commander had predetermined their guilt and would have punished them in a way that would have ended their careers. They weren’t willing to accept that and felt that it would not be a fair hearing.”

They each refused the captain’s mast and opted for a court martial, which is a military trial, to clear their names. The punishment from a court-martial conviction could be greater.

Though it was a better option than accepting guilt, Puckett said, such charges should have never been brought.

“Forget what the punishment would be, even a conviction would be a federal conviction for these guys,” Puckett said. “A federal conviction aloneeven before you consider what punishment they getis grossly disproportionate to the misconduct that’s alleged.

“If we’re talking about the detainee getting punched in the gut by Petty Officer McCabe, given the evil that guy [Abed] is alleged to have wrought on American contractors back in 2004 in Fallujah, it seems that it’s overkill to think that it’s appropriate to send these guys to court martial,” Puckett added.

Puckett suspects this was an overreaction by military brass in regards to detainee abuse.

“The most obvious speculation to me seems to be that the American military and particular Army commanders, and this was an Army commander, are overly sensitive to allegations of detainee abuse in the wake of Abu Ghraib,” Puckett said. “I think they feel a need to overly punish, overly react to these allegations to keep future ones from happening again.”

The alleged punch happened on Sept. 1 when Abed was in captivity.

Abed, after his capture, was held at Camp Baharia, a U.S. base outside of Fallujah. He was briefly handed over to Iraqi authorities and then returned to U.S. custody. Another petty officer, not a Navy Seal, reported the alleged abuse, Lombardi said. It then went up the chain of command, and the commanding general ordered the charges.

Lombardi believes if there was any abuse, it might have happened on the Iraqi side.

“He was turned over to the Iraqi police,” Lombardi said. “He is an Iraqi citizen. Eventually, he’ll go home. Wouldn’t it be a lot better to claim the Americans abused you than the Iraqi police?”

Lombardi said there is a legal defense fund for the Seals, and that she is glad the public can see the Seals were doing the right thing.

“They were capturing a terrorist that we’ve been searching for, for five years. They did it in a professional manner,” Lombardi said. “When you think you’re doing everything right and you’ve got somebody saying, ‘no, you did it wrong,’ it’s really nice to know everybody is saying, ‘you did it right. You did us a favor. Why are you being punished?

The PDFs of the charges are here.

Lets consider the worst case scenario. Lets say that the SEALS really did assault this terrorist. Is the punishment really equal to the crime? Does punching a terrorist responsible for the brutal murders of four Americans deserve one year in a military prison, reduction in pay, and a discharge? Maybe the SEALS should get some kind of minor slap on the wrist for what they did, but in my opinion these three men are heroes. If they are found guilty, then I still dont agree with the course of action the military and our government is taking.

Whats disturbing is that it isnt clear whether or not the alleged assault ever even happened. There is apparently no physical evidence to prove it, and the only proof the military has is this terrorists word that he was assaulted. Who should we believe the terrorist responsible for the slaughter of four Americans, or the brave SEALS who caught him? I would think that we would be trusting the SEALS here, if all we have is Abeds word that he was punched. And, as one of the attorneys said, Abed was also being held by Iraqi police for some time. How do we know for sure who actually punched him? And if he was punched in the stomach well, who gives a damn? Its not the most professional behavior, but really even if he got a fat lip, kids give themselves a fat lip playing basketball or football in their front yards every day. Its not exactly a major war wound. It isnt like they broke any bones or caused him any lasting pain or injuries. He maybe felt uncomfortable for, what, a whole minute? And yet these SEALS are going to face a years imprisonment and a discharge from the military over it? This is an outrage. If our men and women in uniform arent going to be free to fight this war without constantly looking over their shoulders and second-guessing themselves because of idiotic bureaucratic red tape, then whats the point of even fighting? This is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.

A website has been set up called Support The SEALS. You can sign a petition supporting the SEALS here. Please go and sign it. Also, here is some contact information. Please feel free to call or e-mail the people listed below and express your support for the SEALS and ask for these charges to be dropped. As always, please remember to be polite and courteous firm, but polite.

To file a citizens complaint, e-mail holly.silkman@soccent.centcom.mil or call 813-828-4976.

You can send letters here:

US Navy Judge Advocate Generals Corps
The Office of the Judge Advocate General
Public Affairs
1322 Patterson Ave., Suite 3000
Washington Navy Yard DC 20374-5066

Admiral Eric Olson
7701 Tampa Point Blvd.
MacDill AFB, FL 33621-5323

AJAG, Military Law
1254 Charles Morris St., SE
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5047

1322 Patterson Ave., Suite 3000
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5066

Here are some phone numbers you can call:

SPO Public Affairs: 813-368-9885
Washington Navy Yard: (202) 685-5190
Pentagon: (703) 614-7420
JAG: (202) 685-5493

You can also call and send letters to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Room SR-228, Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6050

A list of the House Armed Services Committee staff is here, as well as all of the members. A list of the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee is here. Subcommittee members are here. Dont hesitate to get politicians involved. If politicians feel that their constituents are angry about this (and therefore feel threatened themselves) they will get involved. Again, be polite, but maybe suggest to them that if they just stand by and allow this to happen, it could cost them your vote.

There is also a rally in Norfolk, VA tomorrow to show support for these SEALS. You can get the information on the event here.

Jonathan Keefe is from Yorktown, VA and enlisted in 2006, beginning his SEAL training the same year. He is 25 years old.

Matthew McCabe is from Perrysburg, OH and enlisted in 2003. He is 24 years old.

Julio Huertas is from Blue Island, IL and enlisted in 1999. He has served with special warfare units since 2002 and joined the SEALS in 2006. He is 28 years old.

These are the heroes being persecuted.

These SEALS were fighting for us, defending our country, and bringing retribution to one of our most-wanted terrorists. They fought for us and now it is our turn to fight for them. We cannot just abandon them, so please, take action. Do not let this stand. Together, we can show these heroes that we support them. Remember, these SEALS are claiming that they are innocent and that they did not harm the terrorist in any way, so its the word of a terrorist against three Navy SEALS. Lets show them that we stand with them, and not with a murderous terrorist.

Cross-posted from Cassys blog. Stop by for more original commentary, or follow her on Twitter!