A jury in the court-martial of a Navy SEAL accused of punching a suspected terrorist in Iraq heard the alleged victim testify Tuesday that he was blindfolded, handcuffed, beaten and kicked after his capture in September.
Ahmed Hashim Abed's testimony was recorded in Baghdad and played for the seven-member jury considering the case of Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe, who pleaded not guilty. Two other SEALs who were accused of covering up the assault were acquitted last month in Iraq and are expected to testify in McCabe's trial at the Norfolk Naval Station.
Abed is suspected of masterminding the gruesome 2004 killings of four American contractors in Fallujah. The bodies were burned, dragged through the streets and strung up on a bridge. The incident sparked a fierce, weeks-long battle.
In the audio recording of his nearly three-hour deposition, Abed denied any involvement in the killings and any connection with terrorist organizations. He also described through a translator the night American and Iraqi forces stormed his home and took him to a U.S. base where he claims he was abused for about five minutes.
Abed did not identify McCabe as the assailant, saying he only caught a glimpse of a man's bare legs when he fell to the floor and his blindfold was partially dislodged.
A Navy petty officer who claims McCabe was the attacker is expected to testify. Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin DeMartio also testified at the trials of McCabe's co-defendants, but his account was contradicted by a several other witnesses.
The SEALs have received an outpouring of support from people on the Internet, as well as more than 20 members of Congress who signed a letter urging Defense Secretary Robert Gates to put a stop to the prosecution. Lt. Nicholas Kadlec, the Navy prosecutor, urged the McCabe jury to "find your moral courage" and put all that aside.
"It's a simple case, a simple assault," Kadlec said during opening statements. "But the case is going to challenge you because the accused is a decorated Navy SEAL."
Defense attorney Neal Puckett, however, told the jury that the evidence will suggest Abed intentionally bit into a canker sore on his lip to cause bleeding that he could claim was inflicted by an American captor. He said a terrorist training manual teaches that tactic.
Puckett said the injury may have caused DeMartio, who was in charge of watching Abed, to panic.
"It's entirely likely that the source of this blood that caused an officer to be alarmed was self-inflicted," Puckett said.
McCabe, 24, of Perrysburg, Ohio, is charged with assault, dereliction of duty and lying to investigators. He could get up to a year in jail if convicted.
Relatives of McCabe and of some of the Blackwater contractors who were killed in Fallujah are attending the trial, which is expected to last most of the week.
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