Two Navy SEALs accused in the mistreatment of an Iraqi detainee should be tried at the U.S. base in Iraq where the alleged victim is being held, a military judge ruled Monday.
Cmdr. Tierney Carlos moved the trials after government prosecutors said they would make the detainee available for deposition at Camp Victory in Baghdad but would not bring him to Naval Station Norfolk to testify.
The judge ruled that Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Keefe of Yorktown, Virginia, and Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas of Blue Island, Illinois, have a right to face their accuser in open court.
A hearing for a third defendant, Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe of Perrysburg, Ohio, is tentatively set for Wednesday before a different judge.
McCabe is accused of punching Ahmed Hashim Abed, the suspected mastermind of a 2004 ambush that killed four U.S. security contractors in Fallujah. The contractors' bodies were dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge.
McCabe and the other two SEALs also are charged with dereliction of duty for failing to protect the detainee, and with lying to investigators. Huertas also is charged with impeding the investigation.
The SEALs have received an outpouring of support from people who consider them heroes for capturing Abed. Several members of Congress have asked that the charges be dropped, and more than 100,000 people have joined a Facebook page created to support the SEALs.
Huertas' attorney, Monica Lombardi, said she welcomed the judge's decision.
"We were going to have to travel there to do the deposition anyway, but the government said the witness wasn't going to be available for trial," Lombardi told The Associated Press. "The judge said, 'I'm thinking they should all be moved there.' I can see the logic in his ruling."
Military officials originally wanted to handle the case through a process known as "nonjudicial punishment," but the SEALs insisted on going to trial in an effort to clear their names and save their careers. If convicted by a six-person military jury, they could face up to a year in jail, a bad conduct discharge or loss of pay.