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EDITORIAL: Save the SEALs

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, yesterday renewed a call for

charges to be dropped against three Navy SEALs charged with the unspeakable crime of roughing up a terrorist.

The charges grew from circumstances surrounding the capture of Ahmed Hashim Abed, a terrorist mastermind who organized the killing, burning and mutilating of four American contractors in Fallujah, Iraq, in March 2004. Insurgents strung up the blackened remains on a box-girder bridge over the Euphrates River, a grisly event that made global headlines. Abed was brought in by the SEALs in September 2009.

Abed told Iraqi authorities that Special Operations Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe punched him in the gut. That sailor is charged with unlawfully striking Abed "in the midsection with his fist" and with lying to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service officer about the incident. Petty Officers Julio Huertas and Jonathan Keefe are charged with impeding the investigation and dereliction of duty in failing to safeguard a detainee. Trials for these two sailors are set to begin in Iraq in April, and Petty Officer 2nd Class McCabe will be tried in Norfolk in May.

Public support for the three SEALs has grown steadily since the case came to light. Petitions circulated by Mr. Burton and the newspaper Human Events have collected more than 150,000 signatures. Combined Facebook pages supporting the SEALs have over 350,000 fans. Betty Kilbride, one of the organizers of the Facebook support groups, announced with Father's Press Publishing that they would donate $4 per copy from the sale of her book, "Soul of American Warriors," to the Navy SEALs Defense Fund.

Little evidence has been produced to substantiate Abed's abuse claim, and a planned deposition of the detained terrorist was cancelled. Whether anything he says can be believed is highly doubtful anyway. Al Qaeda terrorists are trained to charge prisoner abuse whenever possible to create exactly this kind of situation. For Abed, a U.S. military court simply would be another front in his personal jihad.

Some in the SEAL community believe that dropping charges is the wrong approach because it would deny the defendants an opportunity to clear their names. The SEALs originally had been given the option of accepting administrative punishment but demanded a court martial for this reason. Jack Lynch, former president of the UDT-SEAL Association, who passed away in February, wrote that since a court martial has commenced, "it must be followed through." He believed that if the charges were dropped, "there would always be doubt in some folks' minds that we are hiding something. This could be a media fiasco no one needs. There is no choice but to go forward."

This argument would carry more weight if the SEALs could get a fair trial. But in the current politicized atmosphere and with an administration that goes out of its way to placate Muslim sentiment, it's not a sure thing that the accused would be vindicated. Having the charges dropped is preferable to seeing these young men railroaded to serve the political designs of the White House. That would be a fiasco indeed.

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