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NORFOLK, Va. — The Army general who leveled charges at three Navy SEALs related to an alleged assault on a suspected al-Qaida terrorist in their custody defended his actions in a letter to lawmakers who questioned the need for prosecution.
Maj. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander of Special Operations Command, Central Command, http://www.militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/responsetoburton.pdf">wrote the justification in a Dec. 15 response to Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton's call on behalf a group of 40 lawmakers who want all charges against the SEALs dropped.
"Regrettably, it appears that your perception of the incident is based on incomplete and factually inaccurate press coverage," Cleveland wrote. "Despite what has been reported, these allegations are not founded solely on the word of the detainee, but rather, were initially raised by other U.S. service members."
But the explanation Cleveland provided doesn't wash with the 40 members of Congress who signed a petition last month to have the charges dropped. In a Jan. 4 response, they continued to call for the charges to be dropped.
Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew McCabe is accused of punching alleged terrorist Ahmed Hashim Abed, who allegedly masterminded the 2004 ambush in Fallujah, Iraq, in which four Blackwater security contractors were burned and mutilated.
McCabe is also accused of trying to cover up the alleged assault.
In addition, SO1 (SEAL) Julio Huertas and SO2 (SEAL) Jonathan Keefe also are accused of making false officials statements in the alleged coverup, and all three are accused of dereliction of duty for allowing the attack to happen.
The trio refused to accept non-judicial punishment from Cleveland. As a result, courts-martial are scheduled to begin for Huertas and McCabe in January, while Keefe's trial has been continued until April.
Cleveland said that media accounts of Abed's injuries occurring during the capture are inaccurate.
"A medical examination conducted at the time the detainee was turned over to U.S. forces determined that his alleged injuries were inflicted several hours after the operation had ended, and while in the custody and care of the U.S. at Camp Schweidler's detainee holding facility," Cleveland wrote.
But he made it clear it's not the assault he's really worried about, stating that "while the assault and resulting injury to the detainee were relatively minor, the more disconcerting allegations are those related to the sailors' attempts to cover up the incident, particularly in what appears to be an effort to influence the testimony of a witness," he said.
Cleveland said all these allegations were fully investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
http://www.militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/responsetocleveland.pdf">In the Jan. 4 response, Burton said he appreciated the general's attempt to "set the record straight," but said the additional information Cleveland provided "only reinforced" his concerns that the allegations and subsequent prosecution are sending a bad message to all U.S. troops engaged in combat.
"The fact that fellow U.S. service personnel initially raised the accusations against Petty Officers Huertas, McCabe and Keefe strongly suggest that we have created a culture within our Armed Forces where our military personnel are now more concerned with protecting themselves from legal jeopardy for every action or statement, than they are about fighting the enemy," Burton wrote.
"Our troops and these SEALs need to be bold and decisive in combat; not hesitant and over thinking every action for fear of prosecution."
Burton's letter goes on to say that prosecuting the SEALs is just what the enemy wants, adding that al-Qaida "instructs their operatives to allege detainee abuse if detained by American forces," and teaches them to "self-inflict injuries" to help those allegations.
Burton finished his letter by stating that continuing the prosecution will do "more harm than good" to the nation and the military and called on Cleveland to drop the charges.
READ THE LETTERS
• http://www.militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/responsetoburton.pdf">Cleveland's letter
• http://www.militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/responsetocleveland.pdf">Burton's letter
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