SEALs Trials Delayed?

The trials of three Navy SEALs charged with abusing terrorist prisoner Ahmed Hashim Abed — captured in a daring action in early September — may be delayed past the planned January 19th commencement.

The incident for which the SEALs are charged is — as Rowan Scarborough and I reported in early December — one which should never have resulted in charges against the SEALs.

The court martial of Matthew McCabe — the SEAL charged with punching Abed in the stomach — may delayed from January 19th because the prosecution wants to take a deposition of Abed in Iraq rather than producing him at the trial, according to a statement released by McCabe’s lawyer, Neal Puckett, on December 31.

Central Command — CENTCOM — has apparently not cleared with the Iraqi government surrendering Abed to US custody and moving him to Norfolk where the courts martial are being convened. A videotaped sworn deposition — with Abed cross-examined by McCabe’s attorneys — would be substituted for his live testimony before the court martial panel.

This decision by CENTCOM is the latest in a string of bad decisions all of which seem aimed at punishing the three SEALs on the basis of the testimony of a terrorist, a move sure to reverberate throughout the special forces.  

The first bad decision was to throw the book at the three on the basis of an allegation of abuse right out of the al-Queda training manual.  

The latest appears to prejudice the SEALs on one of the most fundamental rights of any accused under our Constitution: to confront the accuser.  How can the court martial panel judge the credibility of his testimony — his tone of voice, his body language and facial expression — without being able to see him in person?  

This decision comes to light at the same time the military convening authority — Army Major General Charles Cleveland — has reportedly reacted negatively to a petition and plea by Cong. Dan Burton (R-Ind) to dismiss the charges against the SEALs.

A December 30 report in says that in a December 15 letter, Cleveland told Burton that, “While the assault and resulting injury to the detainee were relatively minor, the more disconcerting allegations are those related to the sailor’s attempts to cover-up the incident." The report adds that Cleveland “…writes that this appears to be an attempt to influence the testimony of a witness.”

HUMAN EVENTS’ petition to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, asking him to intervene to dismiss the charges as he may legally do under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, is being prepared for presentation to Gates as soon as possible.  [An earlier version of this story mistakenly mentioned SOCOM where CENTCOM should be. We regret the error.]