- The Washington Times - Friday, December 25, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The editor of the venerable conservative weekly Human Events is causing an admirable ruckus. Jed Babbin, once deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and now editor of the oldest conservative periodical in the land, is petitioning Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates to dismiss charges against three Navy SEALs for purportedly causing discomfort to one of the most-wanted terrorists in Iraq during his capture in September. Mr. Babbin has more than 90,000 petitioners. Count me in.

The SEALs, Petty Officers Julio Huertas and Jonathan Keefe and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe, are members of SEAL Team 10. Their platoon captured one Ahmed Hashim Abed during a nocturnal raid on or about Sept. 1 in Iraq. Mr. Abed is suspected of being the mastermind of the March 2004 ambush in Fallujah of four Blackwater security guards, which in hindsight was not such a good idea on Mr. Abed’s part. In a wild firefight, his brutes killed the Blackwater contractors, all retired commandos, when they drove into an ambush. Then they desecrated the bodies, dragging them through the streets and hanging two from a bridge for the world to see.

That ostentatious display of barbarism caught the attention of the U.S. military, making it, of a sudden, aware that Iraq was becoming dangerously unstable, with violence potentially spiraling out of control. The atrocity was, as military commentator Rowan Scarborough has observed, a wake-up call that did not turn out well for the brutes.

Precisely what happened to Mr. Abed that September night is unclear. He claims one of the SEALs, Petty Officer McCabe, punched him in the stomach, causing him to bleed from the lip - odd symptoms, no? Presumably we will get all the details during the SEALs’ courts-martial, which are scheduled to begin next month. Yet are these trials really necessary? The other two SEALs are charged with participating in a cover-up. I think it is pretty well established by now that terrorists do not always tell the truth, and they can be unruly when fallen upon in the dark of night in what they hitherto considered secure hiding places.

Moreover, al Qaeda provides them with a training manual. According to Chapter 18 of a manual released by the Justice Department, al Qaeda’s finest are encouraged to complain of torture and lesser acts of mistreatment at the hands of their captors. Possibly they even hire publicists. Thus we have come to the point where members of one of our most elite special-operations forces are going to be court-martialed for causing Mr. Abed a bloody lip during his capture.

The travesty could have been averted had the SEALs settled for a lesser charge. That seems to be what the commanding general of the Special Operations Command, Maj. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, expected after conferring with Army lawyers. Yes, Army lawyers are almost as influential in the execution of this war on terror as our finest special-ops forces. Yet these SEALs entered military service with the highest ambitions. They want, according to Mr. Babbin, to become members of the SEALs’ most elite team. If they settled for the “nonjudicial punishment” under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that was dangled before them, their chances of serving our country at a higher level of combat would be ended.

So now these warriors, who regularly faced a barbaric foe to defend our country, will face courts-martial and possible ruin. Gen. Cleveland had it in his power to tell lower-level commanders simply to lecture these soldiers on avoiding bloody lips in the future, but he set in motion a process that is destructive to these men and to the morale of our finest fighters in the war on terror. Mr. Gates can end this abuse of power simply by doing what Gen. Cleveland failed to do. Send these men back to their officers for a chewing out.

I hope Mr. Gates will follow this course. He is an honorable and intelligent man. I have known him since his boss at the CIA, then-CIA Director William J. Casey, introduced him to me more than two decades ago and told me that with Mr. Gates’ talent and good sense, he was destined to do great good for our country. These SEALs have done great good, too.

Let us get them back to work and get these courts-martial canceled. The guy who should be appearing in the dock is Ahmed Hashim Abed, whose lip doubtless has healed.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute.