updated 11/4/2004 6:25:21 PM ET 2004-11-04T23:25:21

A military hearing officer recommended that a Navy SEAL not be court-martialed for allegedly abusing prisoners in Iraq, including one at Abu Ghraib prison who died after a beating, the commando’s defense lawyer said.

Problems with evidence presented at a pretrial hearing that concluded Monday led the hearing officer, Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Henderson, to recommend that the unnamed sailor receive a lesser non-judicial or administrative punishment, defense attorney John Tranberg said Wednesday.

Under military law, a hearing officer serves much the same function as a civilian grand jury, recommending whether there is enough evidence in a case to prosecute.

The Abu Ghraib scandal broke worldwide in April with the publication of photographs that showed U.S. soldiers abusing naked Iraqis in the prison. Three of eight U.S. soldiers of the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company charged in the scandal have pleaded guilty to charges.

11-year sentence possible
The accused SEAL, who received the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in Iraq, faces charges of aggravated assault, making a false official statement and maltreatment. Together, they carry a potential sentence of up to 11 years in prison.

The SEAL was accused of kicking and punching Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi suspect in the bombing of a Red Cross facility who died at Abu Ghraib in November 2003. A military pathologist said Al-Jamadi died after being beaten — a conclusion disputed by defense attorneys.

The SEAL also allegedly posed for a photo in which the prisoner allegedly was subjected to degrading treatment. The photo has not been released publicly.

A rear admiral in charge of the Navy’s special warfare branch will make a final decision on whether to file charges. Cmdr. Jeff Bender, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, would not comment.

The recommendation could signal problems in the Navy’s efforts to prosecute seven members of a Sea, Air, Land unit known as Seal Team-7 accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners. Charges were dismissed last week against one SEAL.

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