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Military cancels detainee interview in Navy SEAL case

Originally published at The US Report

The military has canceled the deposition of an alleged terrorist mastermind who claimed that he was assaulted by the military following his capture last year. The law firm Puckett and Faraj, representing Navy SEAL Matthew McCabe, made the announcement on Sunday.

Major General Charles Cleveland, the convening authority for the upcoming special courts-martial for three of the Navy SEALs involved in the operation, has decided to cancel the trip to Iraq to depose Ahmed Hashim Abed. Since the SEALs have a Constitutional right to confront their accuser in court, the alleged terrorist's statements won't be used as evidence for the case.

Abed, who is still in U.S. custody, is believed to be the al Qaeda mastermind behind the 2004 Fallujah ambush where four U.S. private security contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated. According to court documents, he claimed that he received what amounted to a punch in the stomach while in U.S. custody.

The prosecution's case against the SEALs appears weak. For instance al Qaeda's training manual states that once captured, members should claim torture and abuse. In addition Abed was initially detained at an Iraqi facility, which presents a chain of custody issue. Complicating matters further, the military has not released any corroborating evidence, such as medical records or photographs, and the sailor who claimed to witness the incident has given five conflicting statements. Also, the SEALs were initially offered an Article 15 hearing, which carries relatively light non-judicial punishment. Instead, the sailors requested trial by courts-martial, which allows all evidence to be considered, but carries much heavier punishment – including incarceration. The SEALs possibly made their decision in an effort to protect their careers. Many believe a non-judicial process would leave the impression of guilt.

The military previously decided not to bring Abed to the U.S. for interview. Commander Tierney Carlos, the military judge for the trials of SO1 Julio Huertas and SO2 Jonathan Keefe, decided in January that since the military ruled that Abed would not be flown from Iraq to the U.S., that the sailors' trials would be held in Iraq.

It is not known whether the military's decision to disallow the detainee interview will affect the cases of Huertas or Keefe. Their trials are set to start in April. McCabe's trial is set for May.

The statement from Puckett and Faraj said, “Since those two military judge’s rulings, Major General Cleveland has canceled the government trip to Iraq to depose the detainee.   This leaves the SO2 McCabe defense and government teams without the Iraqi detainee’s presence or sworn statements as evidence in the case.”

[Disclosure: the author has advocated for the charges against the SEALs to be dropped.]