Updated: Tuesday, 08 Dec 2009, 6:04 AM EST
Published : Monday, 07 Dec 2009, 6:28 AM EST
NORFOLK, Va. - "It's been very stressful," said Navy SEAL Mathew McCabe, 24, moments after his arraignment in military court at Naval Station Norfolk Monday on charges that he allegedly mistreated an Iraqi detainee.
The detainee is the suspected terrorist who allegedly masterminded the ambush and killing of four Blackwater contractors protecting a convoy in Fallujah in 2004.
McCabe, assigned to SEAL Team 10 in Norfolk, is accused of punching the detainee in the stomach and then lying to investigators about it.
"It was a very big shock," said SO2 McCabe of the moment he learned of the charges.
Two teammates of McCabe's are also facing charges. Julio Antonio Huertas Jr., 28, and Jonathan Elliott Keefe, 25, are both charged with failing to protect the detainee and making false statements to investigators.
WAVY.com asked McCabe if he ever punched or abused the suspected terrorist. "No, I did not," he said. "Nor did the two other guys I was with."
Early in the morning, before the SEALs' arraignments even began, a crowd of about 100 people formed outside the base to show their support for the accused men. Some of them were from Hampton Roads and some of them drove hundreds of miles to stand by the accused SEALs. And, just about every car that drove past the base honked in support.
"It's made me, and the other two guys, feel very good about the situation. It's helping us get through everyday," said an overwhelmed McCabe. "It makes us feel so much better knowing that we have so many people behind us, I just can't explain how much better I feel because of that."
McCabe's father was among the crowd. "You send these kids into harms way, they don't know if their next step is going to be their last step. They go get one of the most high profile terrorists on the planet and for that they get a court martial," said Marty McCabe. "Tears my heart out. Last time I read the Constitution it was, 'We the people.' It doesn't cover these clowns, you know these guys who climb out from under rocks and kill women and children."
The mother of slain Blackwater guard Jerry Zovko drove from Ohio to give each of the accused SEALs a blessed rosary and lend them her support. "These young SEALs are in this situation because they caught the mastermind behind the death of my son, and not only my son and his co-workers but also the marines who went into Fallujah after their death," said Donna Zovko. "I am very proud of these young SEALs and thankful to them. They did not do anything wrong."
Scott Taylor, a congressional candidate and former Navy SEAL, attended Monday's protest of the prosecution of the three SEALs. Taylor, who spent more than eight years as a SEAL said, "The charges against these brave, honorable men are an atrocity." He said the detainee they are accused of mistreating is "a terrorist who planned, killed, mutilated and hung burned bodies from a bridge in Fallujah, which caused an invasion into Fallujah, which gave us more American casualties and this guy has a bloody lip. He's lucky he's not dead."
Josh Irving, who flew in from Texas, set up a Facebook page
organizing support for the SEALs.
"It just infuriated me what these guys are going up against," said Irving. "We are sending a world-wide message to terrorists that they can get away with anything, they can cry that someone roughed them up a little, and he was one of the most sought-after terrorists in Iraq and some of the things he did were absolutely gruesome and to put these SEALs up on the chopping block just sends a message to the world that we are weak.
As soon as Irving put out a call for help on Facebook from his living room in Texas, people in Norfolk responded. Dawn West, a local realtor said, "We gave Josh a call and said, 'Hey we're here in Norfolk so hand us the torch. And we went ahead and put out an APB to anyone that wanted to come to this rally and said, 'Please bring your American flag and save our SEALs. We are here as patriots to let them know we support them."
Monica Lombardi, the civilian attorney from Virginia Beach representing Julio Huertas, complained that the government's prosecutors are dragging their feet more than they ever have on any other case. "We have not been provided any evidence or any discovery despite our request," said Lombardi. "The government has been very slow to respond and is currently denying us access to evidence in the case." Lombardi said her client, "has been a hero. Two tours in Iraq, a tour in Afghanistan and now this, this is the thanks he gets for the job he's done. So, it's very hard on him but he's holdling up well."
Congressional candidate Chuck Smith also attended Monday's rally. "I think it's a crying shame that we have our troops put their lives in harms way and they come here and are prosecuted for defending this country."
WAVY.com was not allowed to speak with prosecutors. McCabe and Huertas will stand trial in January. Keefe has yet to be arraigned. If convicted the SEALS face one year in the brig and a Dishonorable Discharge.
PRESS RELEASE from Congressman Glenn Nye:
Bipartisan Group of Representatives Sends Letter to Defense Secretary Gates on Behalf of Accused Navy SEALs
Washington, DC – Congressman Glenn Nye (VA-02) believes that the three Navy SEALs accused of mistreating an Iraqi detainee should not face a court martial over the alleged incident. Late last week, Nye joined a bipartisan group of legislators to send a letter urging Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to review the planned court martial proceedings against the three sailors.
“We believe that prosecution of these sailors for such an apparently limited action will have a negative impact on others in the military who risk their lives in dangerous, often ambiguous situations,” wrote Nye and the other Members of Congress in the letter. “We strongly believe that these court martial proceedings are not warranted and would urge that you review this matter.”
Congressman Glenn Nye represents Virginia’s Second District, which includes the naval base at Norfolk where the three SEALs are facing charges. Nye is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Prior to serving in Congress, Nye spent nearly two years working alongside American troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The letter to Secretary Gates was organized by Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California. Nye has worked with Hunter on other initiatives to support military personnel and veterans. Earlier this year, the two Congressmen teamed-up to write legislation to reduce the rate of homelessness among veterans.
The full text of the letter, signed by more than thirty Members of Congress, including fellow-Hampton Roads Congressmen Rob Wittman and Randy Forbes, is below:
December 4, 2009
Honorable Robert Gates
Secretary of Defense
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We are writing to express our grave concerns over reports that three Navy SEALs will face court martial proceedings over their handling of one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq. Based on the information we have, we believe that prosecution of these men is not warranted.
As you are aware, in September, the three SEALs in question captured Ahmed Hashim Abed, the alleged planner of the March 2004 ambush in Fallujah that resulted in the killing of four Blackwater contractors. We all remember the horrifying pictures showing two of these individuals whose bodies, after being burned and mutilated, were hung on a bridge over the Euphrates River.
Since 2004, Abed evaded capture. However, in September, Special Warfare Operators 2nd Class Matthew McCabe and Jonathan Keefe, and Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Julio Huertas undertook a mission that resulted in Abed’s capture. Soon after his capture, an investigation was conducted based on reports that Abed had been struck in the stomach by one of the SEALs. As we understand it, there was no allegation of torture or sustained abuse. There was simply just this one alleged act. Prosecuting individuals for such a limited act seems to us to be an overreaction by the command. As a result of the investigation, the three SEALs refused to accept non-judicial punishment believing, according to one of the defense attorney’s that they are innocent of the charges. If convicted they could face significant punishment of up to one year confinement, a bad conduct discharge, forfeiture of a portion of their pay each month for up to a year and a reduction in their rank.
It appears from all accounts that these SEALs are exceptional sailors, demonstrated by the fact that each had recently been advanced in rank. They captured a terrorist who had planned an attack that not only killed Americans but also maimed and mutilated their bodies. We believe that prosecution of these sailors for such an apparently limited action will have a negative impact on others in the military who risk their lives in dangerous, often ambiguous situations. Again, we strongly believe that these court martial proceedings are not warranted and would urge that you review this matter.
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