The trial of the last U.S. Navy SEAL to face court-martial in connection with the alleged abuse of a suspected terrorist got off to a slow start in Norfolk this morning, with the judge almost immediately moving for a four-hour recess to consider last-minute motions.
Proceedings are set to resume at 1 p.m. at Norfolk Naval Station.
Three SEALs were charged in the case. Two of them, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Keefe and Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas, were cleared of wrongdoing during military trials in Baghdad last month. Prosecutors argued that they helped cover up the mistreatment of Ahmed Hashim Abed in Fallujah, Iraq, in September.
The SEAL who is standing trial this week, Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe, is the only one accused of physically harming Abed.
Roughly 50 demonstrators gathered outside Navy base gates this morning to protest the military's decision to court-martial him. They carried signs bearing slogans such as, “Honk if you support SEALs” and “You fought for us. Now we fight for you.”
Nofolk resident Ceci Budimier, a former Marine, said she read about the demonstration online and felt a duty to attend. “This is a guy who’s giving everything for his country, and yet his own rights are being trampled on,” she said. “It’s just ridiculous.”
The charges against McCabe include assault for allegedly punching Abed in the midsection, dereliction of duty for not protecting Abed and making a false statement to an investigator who later interviewed him about the matter.
Abed is thought to have masterminded the killing of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah in 2004.
McCabe, Keefe and Huertas are assigned to SEAL Team 10, headquartered at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek. They could have accepted administrative punishment but chose instead to fight the charges.
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