SEAL: Prisoner abuse intended to 'instill fear'

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Navy commando testified Friday that he and other members of an elite SEAL team punched, kicked and struck a hooded and handcuffed Iraqi prisoner captured during a nighttime raid to “instill fear.” The captive died a short time later in the Abu Ghraib prison.

The commando, identified only by his rank as a hospital corpsman, was a surprise witness during a military pretrial hearing for another member of the Navy Sea, Air Land unit known as Seal Team-7 accused of abusing prisoners in Iraq.

The accused SEAL, an aviation boatswain’s mate, allegedly punched and kneed prisoners in Iraq, twisted their testicles and struck a prisoner in the buttocks with a wooden board. He also posed in photos where the detainee was allegedly subjected to degrading treatment.

Earlier in the day, the corpsman reached a plea deal that resolves similar charges while sparing him time in prison.

The accused SEAL stared at the witness and shook his head once during the testimony. The corpsman avoided looking at the defendant.

The proceeding, known as an Article 32 hearing, is being held to determine whether the boatswain’s mate should be court-martialed. The accused SEAL, who received the Purple Heart for suffering wounds in Iraq could face up to 11 years in prison if convicted.

The corpsman, who testified under a grant of immunity, said he and the accused SEAL took part in a November 2003 mission to capture Manadel al-Jamadi.

Al-Jamadi was a suspect in a bombing of a Red Cross facility, according to an Army report on the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. He was captured after a hand-to-hand struggle with the accused SEAL.

After al-Jamadi was subdued, his hands cuffed and a sandbag placed on his head, the corpsman said he watched the accused and another SEAL “body slam” the captive into the back of a Humvee. Later, the SEALs arrived at an Army base, where the accused SEAL struck al-Jamadi with the muzzle of his weapon, according to the corpsman, who said he punched the detainee.

The corpsman said the force was excessive and the detainee did not pose a threat. The corpsman said some of the beating occurred because al-Jamadi was speaking in Arabic. Other beatings were designed “to instill fear and surprise at the capture.”

He identified the accused SEAL posing in one of a series of photographs taken of al-Jamadi with the accused SEAL’s camera. The corpsman identified himself in one of the photos holding a loaded gun to al-Jamadi’s head.

The corpsman pleaded guilty Friday to abusing prisoners and disobeying orders in a nonjudicial proceeding known as a captain’s mast. His punishment includes 45 days restriction to base, 45 days extra duty and a reduction in rank.

The hearing was continued until Monday to allow the accused SEAL’s lawyer, John Tranberg, time to prepare for a cross-examination.

Military prosecutors did not call to the stand the ex-SEAL who initiated the charges of prisoner abuse. The ex-SEAL made the allegations in June while appealing a decision to kick him out of the unit for stealing another SEAL’s body armor in Iraq.

All SEALs were referred to only by rank, and the courtroom briefly was cleared twice — once during the corpsman’s testimony and again when a SEAL lieutenant commander took the stand. A Navy officer was posted in the court to ensure that no classified information leaked out.

Members of SEAL Team-7 were part of Task Force 121, a special operations-CIA unit in Iraq, according to an Army report on Abu Ghraib.

Five other SEALS were charged with abusing Iraqi prisoners. Charges were dismissed Tuesday against a chief petty officer, although he will receive administrative punishment, said Cmdr. Jeff Bender, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command, the SEALs’ headquarters.

Article 32 hearings for the remaining four defendants have not been scheduled.