4 Navy SEALs charged in prisoner-abuse case

Alleged victim died during questioning last year at Abu Ghraib

September 04, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Four Navy SEAL commandos have been charged with assaulting and mistreating an Iraqi detainee who later died during questioning at Abu Ghraib prison in November, and then lying about it, the Navy said yesterday. It is the first time that Special Operations Forces have faced criminal charges in connection with the prisoner-abuse scandal.

The charges against the four SEALs, who were not identified but include at least one lieutenant, include assault, maltreatment of detainees and giving false statements to investigators, according to a Navy statement.

A spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego, Cmdr. Jeffrey Bender, said in a telephone interview that more SEALs would probably be charged "in the near future" as part of a widening inquiry into alleged abuses in Iraq between October 2003 and April 2004.

In a second case, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is looking into possible abuse by Navy SEALs against an Iraqi detainee in April, a Navy official said. That detainee also died later while in allied custody.

Military officials said it was highly unusual to charge Special Operations Forces, reputed to be highly trained and disciplined, with offenses committed on the battlefield. Investigators have reported that one of the SEALs who was charged struck the captured Iraqi detainee with a rifle butt after the prisoner resisted arrest.

The body of the Iraqi detainee, pictured wrapped in plastic and packed in ice, became one of the most infamous and enduring images to emerge during the prisoner abuse case. The incident also drew attention because the detainee was being questioned by the CIA at Abu Ghraib but was deliberately kept off the prison roster.

Army officials said this week that about two dozen soldiers are expected to face abuse-related charges in the deaths of two Afghan detainees at an American-run detention center in Afghanistan in December 2002. In addition, an Army report released last week recommended disciplinary action against 41 military police, military intelligence soldiers, civilian contractors and Army medics in connection with abuses at Abu Ghraib.

The Armed Services Committees of the Senate and House have scheduled daylong hearings Thursday to hear testimony from the panels that issued their reports last week on the abuse scandal. Separately, a group of retired admirals and generals is calling for an independent commission to investigate American detention and interrogation procedures.

The Navy charges announced yesterday focus on the handling of a man, identified by American authorities only as Jamadi, who was captured in Iraq by the SEALs on November 4, 2003, after he was suspected of being involved in an attack against the International Committee of the Red Cross. When the man resisted arrest, one of the SEALs "butt-stroked" him in the head with his rifle, according to the report by three Army generals released last week.

The SEALs, who were part of a secretive Special Operations Forces/CIA task force that operated in Iraq, then took Jamadi to a CIA base camp, a Navy official said yesterday. From there, CIA representatives brought the hooded prisoner to Abu Ghraib, but did not register him with prison authorities, the Army report found. The prisoner was placed in a shower stall, attended by two CIA officials.

About 45 minutes later, a soldier was summoned to the shower where Jamadi, face down, hooded with a sandbag and handcuffed with his hands behind his back, was determined to be dead. The body was packed in ice, photographed and removed the next day on a litter to make it appear as if the prisoner was only ill, the Army report concluded.

While the Army report, conducted by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, underscored that many details of the death are still not known and are under investigation, an autopsy conducted later concluded that the prisoner had "died of a blood clot in the head, likely as a result of injuries he sustained during apprehension."

But the murkiness of the incident, which is also being investigated by the CIA's inspector general, prevented prosecutors from charging the SEALs with manslaughter or homicide, a senior Navy official said. "Legally, they didn't think they could prove anything that far," the official added.

The SEALs initially denied any abuse. But the case gained momentum after another SEAL, who had been charged on an unrelated offense, agreed in late June to share information about the abuses that he had heard about in hopes of winning leniency in his case, a Navy official said.

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