BAGHDAD (AP) - An Iraqi prisoner suspected of masterminding an attack thatkilled four American contractors testified Wednesday at acourt-martial of a Navy SEAL that he was beaten by U.S. troopswhile hooded and tied to a chair,
But defense witnesses for Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertason the trial's opening day cast strong doubt on the testimony bythe terror suspect and that of a fellow sailor who claimed he sawthe assault.
The trial stems from an attack on four Blackwater securitycontractors who were driving through the city of Fallujah west ofBaghdad in early 2004. The men were killed and then crowds draggedtwo of the burnt bodies through the streets and hanged them from abridge over the Euphrates River -- pictures that became iconic ofthe U.S.-led war in Iraq.
The images drove home to many the rising power of the insurgencyand helped spark a bloody U.S. invasion of the city to root out theinsurgents. Two of the Blackwater guards were former SEALs, theNavy's elite special forces team.
Ahmed Hashim Abed was arrested in the early hours last Sept. 1during a raid on his home by U.S. and Iraqi security forces onmultiple terrorism charges. He was the subject of a yearslong U.S.manhunt for the Blackwater killings.
He testified Wednesday that he was sitting in a chair with hishands bound behind him and hood over his head when he was hit frombehind on the shoulder and back, fell to his knees and was thenpicked back up and struck in the stomach.
"It was very powerful. It was so hard I fell down again on myface because my hands were behind my back," he said, speakingArabic through an interpreter.
"Once I was down they put their foot in my shoulder; I startedsaying 'please, please' -- these were the only words that I knew,"he testified.
Abed, who is being held by Iraqi authorities pending trial, wasbrought in to the court wearing his yellow prison jumpsuit.
The courts-martial of three Virginia Beach, Va.-based Navy SEALSaccused in the Iraqi prisoner's abuse case have outraged manyAmericans who see it as a sign that their government is going softon terrorists. Members of Congress have urged the U.S. defensesecretary to drop the charges.
Huertas, 28, of Blue Island, Illinois, is the first of threeSEALs to go on trial for the alleged assault. He's not accused ofactually abusing the prisoner but of failing to safeguard him andattempting to influence the testimony of another servicemember.
A verdict in Huertas' case is expected as early as Thursday. Hehas pleaded not guilty and appeared in his dress blues in amilitary courtroom at Camp Victory on Baghdad's westernoutskirts.
If convicted, Huertas could face up to a year in prison.
Huertas' attorneys on Wednesday showed jurors photographs ofAbed after the alleged beating that pictured a visible cut insidehis lip, but no obvious signs of bruising or injuries anywhereelse.
Later, Army dentist Capt. Curtis Schmidt testified that the cutinside Abed's lip could have been caused by a cold sore or a bite.At worst, Schmidt said, only an indirect blow -- such as Abed'shead hitting the floor without force -- would have inflicted whathe described as a minor injury. Schmidt testified as an expert forthe defense and never examined Abed.
Two other military medics who saw Abed in the hours after thealleged incident cast doubt that he had been beaten while in U.S.custody.
In earlier testimony, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class KevinDeMartino testified he saw SEAL Petty Officer 2nd Class MatthewMcCabe punch the prisoner in the stomach and watched blood spurtfrom his prisoner's mouth. DeMartino was assigned to guard andtransport Abed and was the only witness who claimed he saw anassault.
DeMartino said Huertas and another SEAL, Petty Officer 2nd ClassJonathan Keefe, also were in the narrow holding-room.
Of the 11 witnesses who testified -- half of whom are specialforces or intelligence officers who cannot be publicly identified-- only one other said he saw convincing evidence of the assault.The SEAL commander who oversaw the raid testified he revisited Abedin his holding cell a few hours later and noticed dried bloodaround his mouth and a blood stain "bigger than a softball" on hisclothes that he did not remember being there before.
The commander said he reported the evidence of abuse to hissuperiors, launching the investigation.
All three SEALs could have received only a disciplinaryreprimand, but insisted on a military trial to clear their namesand save their careers.
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