- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2010

BAGHDAD (AP) — A U.S. military judge on Friday cleared a Navy SEAL of any wrongdoing in the purported beating of an Iraqi prisoner suspected of masterminding the grisly 2004 killings of four American contractors.

The Blackwater contractors’ burned bodies were dragged through the streets and two were hanged from a bridge over the Euphrates river in the former insurgent hotbed of Fallujah, in what became a major turning point in the Iraq war.

After a daylong trial and fewer than two hours of mulling the evidence, Navy Judge Cmdr. Tierny Carlos found Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Keefe of Yorktown, Va., not guilty of dereliction of duty, a spokesman said.

It was the second verdict in as many days to throw out charges against three SEALs, the Navy’s elite special forces unit, accused in the abuse case. The trials have drawn fire from at least 20 members of Congress and other Americans who it see it as coddling terrorists to overcompensate for the notorious Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Petty Officer Keefe was not charged with assaulting terror suspect Ahmed Hashim Abed, but of failing to protect him in the hours after he was captured and brought to a U.S. military base Sept. 1 last year. Abed had been the focus of an Iraq-wide manhunt for his suspected role in the 2004 killing of four Blackwater security guards whose bodies were dragged through the streets of Fallujah, a former insurgent hotbed.

U.S. Joint Forces Special Operations spokesman Lt. Col. Terry L. Conder said Petty Officer Keefe showed no visible reaction when Cmdr. Carlos read his verdict shortly before 9 p.m. at a courtroom at the U.S. military’s Camp Victory on Baghdad’s western outskirts.

Instead of having his case heard by a jury, Petty Officer Keefe left the evidence and verdict up to the same judge who oversaw a similar ruling the day before in the trial of fellow SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas.

Petty Officer Huertas testified briefly during Petty Officer Keefe’s case — mostly to underscore the point that he, too, had been cleared, Col. Conder said.

The evidence largely pit the testimony of Abed and a junior Navy whistleblower against that of several SEALs and other Navy sailors who denied that Abed had been abused.

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