Tue, Mar 22, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Secrecy cloaks SEAL's court-martial

CLASSIFIED A member of the elite US force is standing trial after the death of an Iraqi detainee, amid reports that the CIA played a role in the prisoner's demise


The court-martial of a navy SEAL lieutenant accused of abusing a prisoner in Iraq is a case full of secrets -- even the defendant's name is classified.

The SEAL is accused of punching an Iraqi detainee in the arm and allowing his men to abuse the prisoner, who later died during CIA interrogation at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

He faces a trial that was set to begin yesterday on charges of assault, dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer.

The navy is taking extraordinary precautions to protect the identity of its terrorist-hunting SEALs, members of an elite force named for Sea, Air, Land.

The lieutenant will be referred to only by the first letter of his last name, as will all SEAL personnel in the courtroom -- a step experts on military law say is virtually unprecedented.

Swirling around the case are reports that point to the involvement of the CIA's interrogation tactics in the death of the detainee -- one of a handful of cases that the spy agency has referred to the US Justice Department for possible prosecution.

The SEALs acted as the CIA's warrant squad on dangerous "capture or kill" missions in Iraq, bursting into homes in the middle of the night and carting off suspects.

A secret policy governed these missions under the SEAL credo of "speed, surprise and violence of action."

During a pretrial hearing in January, a SEAL officer testified that the SEALs were taught that it was okay to use force to get a detainee's attention and were authorized to use deadly force. Prosecutors, however, insist they must be held accountable for a mission that got out of hand.

In November 2003, the SEALs went after Iraqi Manadel al-Jamadi, a suspect in the bombing a month earlier of Red Cross offices in Iraq that killed 12. Documents and testimony show the CIA believed he knew the location of a pile of explosives.

On the night of Nov. 4, they burst into al-Jamadi's apartment outside Baghdad, subdued him after a violent struggle and whisked him back to their base at Baghdad's airport. En route, the SEALs allegedly kicked and punched al-Jamadi and struck him with their rifles. They also posed for photos with the hooded and handcuffed prisoner.

The SEALs then turned al-Jamadi over to the CIA. A few hours later, he was dead.

No one has been charged with killing al-Jamadi.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press suggest that CIA personnel -- not the SEALs -- may be to blame for the prisoner's death.

When he died, al-Jamadi was suspended by his wrists, which were handcuffed behind his back -- a position known as "Palestinian hanging" that has been condemned by human rights groups as torture, according to investigative files from the Army and the CIA's Office of Inspector General.

An army guard told investigators that blood gushed from al-Jamadi's mouth "as if a faucet had been turned on" when he was lowered to the ground.

"The position that al-Jamadi was placed [in] for interrogation together with the hood [covering his head] was `part and parcel' of the homicide," Jerry Hodge, the military pathologist who autopsied al-Jamadi last year, told the CIA's Inspector General's office.

Hodge found broken ribs and bruised lungs but no external injuries that would have resulted from the alleged beating by SEALs. Al-Jamadi's injuries were more consistent with "slow, deliberate application of force," such as someone kneeling on his chest or holding him down with the soles or heels of their boots.

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