Derechos | Equipo Nizkor
Investigation of SEAL Conduct in Afghanistan Is Reopened
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has reopened its investigation into allegations that Navy SEALs and Afghan police militiamen beat several detainees, including one who died, at an isolated outpost in Afghanistan in 2012, agency officials said Thursday.
The agency's action came after revelations in an article in The New York Times last month about new Afghan witnesses and questions from congressional leaders about how the Navy handled the case.
The case began when four United States Army soldiers stationed at an outpost with the SEAL team told N.C.I.S. investigators that they saw three SEAL team members kicking several detainees, dropping heavy stones on their chests and firing guns near their heads. The Navy investigators also interviewed several Afghans and Navy personnel who described some of the abuses.
A Navy lawyer advising the command recommended in 2012 that three members of the SEALs be charged with assault. But a SEAL commander cleared the team members of any wrongdoing in a closed disciplinary process typically used only for minor infractions. The SEAL team members denied any misconduct.
"The article raised real concerns," said Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. "After learning of the testimonies of the U.S. service members who were interviewed by the Navy investigators, I felt that it warranted further inquiry by the Pentagon, and it is proper that the case is being reopened."
Ed Buice, a spokesman for the N.C.I.S., said the agency wanted to track down the new Afghan witnesses who were quoted in the Times article , which described the previously unreported episode.
They include an Afghan man who told a reporter that he had been among the detainees and was with the other prisoner when he died shortly after leaving the outpost. The Times also found the dead man's brother.
Military officials said that the SEAL command had resisted conducting a review of its own, and that the N.C.I.S. would try to talk to the new witnesses as a first step in re-examining the matter.
The N.C.I.S. interviewed four Afghans in its investigation of the incident in 2012, but only two had witnessed the suspected abuse by the Afghan militiamen and the SEALs, who were members of SEAL Team 2, based in Little Creek, Va.
One of those witnesses, an Afghan militiaman, corroborated the American soldiers' accounts that the detainees were assaulted by Afghan and American personnel, according to an N.C.I.S. report written in August 2012. A shopkeeper, the only one of the four witnesses who saw the dead body, told the N.C.I.S. that he was beaten by the Afghan militiamen but not by Americans.
Still, several former military lawyers told The Times that the sworn statements by the soldiers had provided more than enough evidence for the SEAL command to call for a hearing before an impartial Navy lawyer, who could have decided whether to recommend a court-martial on assault or even manslaughter charges.
"My reaction is better late than never," Eugene R. Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, said of the N.C.I.S. decision to reopen the investigation. "I think the command's dismissive attitude toward evidence presented by members of another branch of the armed services was disturbing."
Former military lawyers cautioned that it could be difficult for the N.C.I.S. to locate the new witnesses and persuade them to talk to the American authorities. The episode happened near the remote village of Kalach in Oruzgan Province, and the area is now back in Taliban control. It took months for The Times to locate the men and arrange to meet them in Kabul for interviews.
The detainee who said he saw the other prisoner die goes, like many Afghans, by one name, Assadullah. He told The Times that he, another companion, and the 24-year-old man who died, Muhammad Hashem, were itinerant scrap merchants who were rounded up by the Afghan Local Police after a roadside bomb killed a militiaman near Kalach.
He said the militiamen took the three of them and several villagers from Kalach to the American outpost for questioning and that American personnel had grabbed him by the throat and kneed him in the stomach several times.
The American soldiers, who were on guard duty at the outpost, described even harsher abuse by the militiamen and the SEAL Team members. It is not known who delivered the blows that might have killed Mr. Hashem, but Mr. Assadullah described how Mr. Hashem collapsed and died after they were released and were walking away.
Mr. Hashem's brother, Abdul Aziz, said in an interview that in the months after the episode, he had sent complaint letters to the American commanders in Oruzgan, the national police and other officials. But no one responded.
Gary D. Solis, who served as a prosecutor and later a judge in the United States Marine Corps, said the three and a half years that have passed since the episode occurred could add to the difficulties in prosecuting a case.
"Memory will fade," he said, adding, "Time is always on the side of the defense."
[Source: By Christopher Drew, The New York Times, 14Jan16]
War in Afghanistan & Iraq
|This document has been published on 15Jan16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|