- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2010

When a small team of Navy SEALs set out to capture one of Iraq’s most-wanted terrorists in September, they never dreamed it would go so smoothly.

After all, Ahmed Hashim Abed, the suspected mastermind of a 2004 atrocity against U.S. contractors in Fallujah, was holed up in a safe house in Anbar province. Intelligence reports, which identified his location, said he kept a revolver under his pillow.

A helicopter set the SEALs down miles away. They silently approached the house and burst in to surprise a sleeping Abed. He never had a chance to pull the gun that, indeed, lay under his pillow. Subdued after a brief scuffle, he was marched to a landing site, where the helicopter took the SEALs and their captive back to Camp Schweidler.

“It went flawlessly,” said a source close to the case. “They expected to get a medal.”

This source, and others, recounted to The Washington Times how one of the most successful captures in the war’s six years has turned into a nightmare for six SEALs involved in the mission.

Three have been charged with assault in their handling of the prize captive and with making false statements when questioned about the incident. Another three, including the platoon’s two officer leaders, are refusing to talk unless granted immunity from prosecution. Their attorney told The Times that they did not see the detainee assaulted or know of any cover-up.

Four months after the incident, anger among the defendants’ supporters has grown.

U.S. Central Command’s treatment of the six SEALs as criminal suspects has stirred an outcry across the country. At least 100,000 people have signed up on a Facebook page, Support the Navy SEALs Who Captured Ahmed Hashim Abed. Members of Congress have written to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to intervene, which he has declined to do.

The Anbar-based SEALs arrived back in camp about 5 a.m. Abed stayed under guard several hours before he was transferred to Iraqi police, as was standard procedure.

It was during those several hours when Abed is said to have been assaulted.

The accusation came from the unit’s master-at-arms, the sailor responsible for guarding Abed. He later told the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) that he saw Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe punch Abed in the stomach.

Petty Officer McCabe denies that he hit the detainee, setting up a confrontation with the master-at-arms, whose version seems certain to be challenged at a scheduled May court-martial in Norfolk, Va.

Sometime that morning, the platoon commander saw Abed with a bloody shirt, perhaps from a split lip. He conducted his own inquiry, during which all of the SEALs denied hitting Abed.

He forwarded the report up the chain of command, which then ordered the NCIS probe. It resulted in criminal charges against Petty Officer McCabe and two other SEALs brought by Army Maj. Gen. C.T. Cleveland, who heads the special operations component within U.S. Central Command.

Meanwhile, U.S. commanders and Iraqi authorities began a legal tug of war that September morning. When top U.S. commanders realized that the SEALs had captured a major terrorist figure, they implored the platoon commander to get him back from Iraqi control, which he did after hours of negotiations.

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