WASHINGTON (AP) - Lawmakers are seeking a reprieve for three Navy SEALs facingcourt-martial because one allegedly punched a suspect in an ambushkilling of U.S. contractors in Iraq.
One of the SEALs is reported to have punched Ahmed Hashim Abedduring Abed's September arrest, said Rep. Duncan Hunter,R-Calif.
Rather than accept a reprimand, the sailors chose to fight thecharges in a military court. Their appeal greatly raises the stakesbecause a guilty finding could bring stiff punishment.
A letter Hunter is circulating in the House said prosecuting thethree SEALs "seems to us to be an overreaction by the command."
Hunter, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the men couldface loss of rank, up to one year of confinement, a bad conductdischarge and forfeiture of a portion of their pay each month forup to a year.
About 20 lawmakers have signed the letter to Defense SecretaryRobert Gates, including House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.The letter is to be delivered Friday afternoon.
"The Navy SEALs could have been slapped on the wrist for this --unfairly then, too. But they said, 'We want to let the facts beknown. This is baloney that we're being tried for this at all,"'Hunter said.
The plight of the three men seems to be gaining attention onCapitol Hill. On Wednesday, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., sent asimilar letter to Gates, asking the secretary to give the case hispersonal attention. He said it appeared to him that highly skilledpersonnel have been removed from the war effort "due to a fat lipand some slanderous allegations by one of the most-wantedindividuals in Iraq."
Lt. Col. Eric Butterbaugh, a Pentagon spokesman, said officialsare aware of Ensign's letter and that the department will respondto the senator. He said the department doesn't comment on thecontent of those communications. He also declined to comment on thelawmakers' contention that the case involving the three men is anoverreaction.
The Navy SEALs involved are Special Warfare Operators 2nd ClassMatthew McCabe and Jonathan Keefe, and Special Warfare Operator 1stClass Julio Huertas. The letter circulating in the House said thatprosecution of the sailors would have a negative impact on othersin the military who risk their lives in dangerous, often ambiguoussituations.
According to Special Operations Command Central, McCabe ischarged with assault, dereliction of duty and making a falseofficial statement; Keefe is charged with dereliction of duty andmaking a false official statement; and Huertas is charged withdereliction of duty, making a false official statement and impedingan official investigation.
"It appears from all accounts that these SEALs are exceptionalsailors, demonstrated by the fact that each had recently beenadvanced in rank," the letter said. "They captured a terrorist whohad planned an attack that not only killed Americans but alsomaimed and mutilated their bodies."
Abed had evaded capture since the ambush that killed fourBlackwater USA contractors in March 2004. The burned bodies of twoof the victims in the attack were hung on a bridge over theEuphrates River.
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