- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2009

RICHMOND | Two Navy SEALs are scheduled to be arraigned Monday in military court on charges that they mistreated an Iraqi suspected in the gory slayings of four U.S. contractors in Fallujah.

One of the SEALs is accused of punching the detainee after his September arrest, while the other is accused of lying to investigators. A third SEAL, also accused of lying to investigators about the episode, will be arraigned later.

All three men have received an outpouring of support from people who view them as heroes. A Facebook page created to support the SEALs had more than 45,000 members as of Friday, and a U.S. congressman is leading a campaign to persuade Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to intervene.

Petty Officers 2nd Class Matthew McCabe of Perrysburg, Ohio, and Jonathan Keefe of Yorktown, Va., and Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas of Blue Island, Ill., face courts-martial at a date to be determined. Petty Officer Keefe’s arraignment has been continued. The SEALs, based at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Norfolk, are not in custody.

The men refused an administrative process known as “nonjudicial punishment” because they feared unfair treatment by military brass, said Neal Puckett, an attorney for Petty Officer McCabe.

“They felt they had already been determined to be guilty,” Mr. Puckett said.

By refusing to accept the reprimand, the men could face a more serious penalty at court-martial, which will be determined by a six-person military jury.

If the men are convicted, they could face up to a year in a military jail, a bad conduct discharge or loss of pay, said Mr. Puckett, a retired Marine Corps officer and judge advocate.

Petty Officer McCabe, 24, is charged with assault. All three men also are charged with dereliction of duty and lying to investigators, and Petty Officer Huertas is charged with impeding an investigation.

Mr. Puckett said the charges stem from an alleged “punch in the gut” after the SEALs captured the Iraqi in early September. Mr. Puckett said that the men are not guilty and that he has been bombarded with calls and e-mails from people who say that even if the detainee was punched, it’s “a minor affront” compared to what he is suspected of doing.

Army Lt. Col. Holly Silkman, a spokeswoman for the military’s Special Operations Command Center, urged the public to withhold judgment until the evidence is heard.

“This is much more involved than the defense would lead you to believe,” Col. Silkman said.

Ahmed Hashim Abed is thought to be connected to the 2004 killings of four Blackwater security guards who were protecting a convoy when they were attacked by Iraqi insurgents. Their burned corpses were dragged through the city, and two of them were hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

A military official confirmed that Mr. Abed is the detainee who said he was assaulted. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the detainee publicly.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, wrote a letter to Mr. Gates last week expressing “grave concerns” about the prosecution of the SEALs. More than two dozen of Mr. Hunter’s colleagues signed the letter, saying military officials have overreacted.

“As we understand it, there was no allegation of torture or abuse,” Mr. Hunter wrote.

Charging documents were not released because they contain classified information, Col. Silkman said, so details about the alleged offenses remain sketchy.

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