Navy Drops Charges Against Commando in Abuse of Prisoners
Published: October 29, 2004  (must register to view original article)

The Navy dropped criminal charges this week against one of seven commandos accused of mistreating prisoners in Iraq, a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command said yesterday.

The member of the Navy's special forces, the Seals, was subjected instead to nonjudicial punishment and remains with the unit, said the spokesman, Cmdr. Jeffrey A. Bender. He declined to describe the punishment, but officials said nonjudicial sanctions could be as mild as a letter of reprimand. The resolution of the case was first reported yesterday in The Los Angeles Times.

Preliminary hearings on charges against two other commandos were held yesterday and planned for today at the Navy base in Coronado, Calif. The four remaining officers will have their hearings, the military equivalent of grand jury proceedings, probably next month, Commander Bender said.

The commandos, members of the Sea-Air-Land Team 7, were part of an elite group of special operations forces and Central Intelligence Agency operatives hunting insurgents in Iraq. They are accused of abusing a number of prisoners between October 2003 and April 2004 by kicking them, punching them, twisting their testicles, breaking their fingers and pointing loaded guns at them.

None of the commandos have been publicly identified. Commander Bender said their names were being withheld both because of the secret nature of Seal operations and to prevent damaging their reputations if they are not guilty of crimes.

Some, though not all, are charged with mistreating Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi who died in American custody on Nov. 4, 2003, at Abu Ghraib prison and whose body was later photographed wrapped in plastic and packed in ice. The incident also drew attention because Mr. Jamadi was a "ghost detainee," questioned by the C.I.A. at Abu Ghraib but kept off the prison roster.

No one has been charged with manslaughter or murder in connection with Mr. Jamadi's death, but one of the commandos is accused of "kicking and punching him in the stomach and back with a means or force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm."

An investigation led by Maj. Gen. George Fay of the Army said the detainee later identified as Mr. Jamadi was a suspect in a bombing of the Baghdad headquarters of International Committee of the Red Cross. When he was captured by a Seal team, one commando reportedly hit him on the side of the head with the butt of his rifle, according to the Fay report. An autopsy concluded that he died of a blood clot in the brain, probably caused by injuries during his capture, the report said.

But Milton J. Silverman, a lawyer for one of the commandos under investigation, said yesterday that three forensic pathologists who reviewed the autopsy report at his request concluded that Mr. Jamadi's death was not caused by trauma from a blow to the head.

Mr. Silverman also said in a telephone interview that he believed many of the charges against his client and the other commandos were based on false testimony from a former member of the Seals who was facing discharge for taking another serviceman's body armor.

Commander Bender, the Navy spokesman, declined to respond to Mr. Silverman's assertions, saying he could not comment on an open criminal investigation.