- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2015

U.S. soldiers witnessed Navy SEALs and Afghan police brutally beating detainees in Afghanistan in 2012, but when they told commanding officers, the men in question were cleared of all wrongdoing in an apparent cover-up, The New York Times reported.

Members of SEAL Team 2 reportedly dropped stones on prisoners’ chests, stood on their heads, poured water on their faces, kicked them and hit them with antennas and rifle butts. The beatings were so brutal that one of the prisoners died within a day, according to The Times’ investigative report.

But the SEAL command reportedly eschewed a court-martial, opting for a closed disciplinary process typically used for minor infractions, despite recommendations from a Navy lawyer that the men face assault charges.

“It’s unfathomable,” Donald J. Guter, a retired rear admiral and former judge advocate general of the Navy, told The Times. “It really does look like this was intended just to bury this.”

Navy officials defended the handling of the case, saying the SEAL captain who oversaw the investigation had full authority to decide the it as he saw fit. The SEAL Team 2 members in question reportedly denied abusing the detainees.

The captain, Robert E. Smith, who was then in charge of the SEALs based on the East Coast and is now a military assistant to the secretary of the Navy, said in a statement that he had found inconsistencies in the soldiers’ accounts and that conflicting statements from the witnesses “did not give me enough confidence in their overall accuracy to hold the accused accountable for assaults or abuse.”

He said it was “evident” that the men had mistreated the detainees and had not reported it, but he dismissed charges for failing to make such a report.

Although the incident only involved one death, it could have much broader implications as the U.S. continues its campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

According to the report, the abuse allegations alienated villagers and drove some that had previously been cooperative to leave for Taliban-controlled territory.

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