FNC Reports Plight of Navy SEAL Heroes Charged with Prisoner Abuse

In the past several days, FNC has given attention to the plight of three Navy SEALs who helped capture one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq – a man named Ahmed Hashim Abed who is believed to have planned the savage murder of four Blackwater security guards in Fallujah in 2004. Due to accusations of prisoner abuse by Abed, these American troops are now facing the possibility of court-martial. On Wednesday’s Special Report with Bret Baier, correspondent Steve Centanni began his report:

It was March of 2004. Fallujah was a hotbed of insurgent activity. Four Blackwater contractors were ambushed and killed. Their bodies were mutilated and burned, then dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River. The man believed to have planned that attack, Ahmed Hashim Abed ... had long evaded capture. But when a team of Navy SEALs finally did catch up with him in September of this year, they weren't hailed as heroes. Instead, three of them were brought up on charges.

Fox and Friends also raised the story Wednesday morning, and Thursday’s show delved further into the matter as former JAG officer and defense attorney Tom Kenniff appeared as a guest and argued that the accusations of abuse are consistent with al-Qaeda’s practice of advising its members to level false accusations of abuse against American troops if captured. Kenniff:

This is right out of the, you know, al-Qaeda employee handbook. I mean, they tell their guys, look, the first thing to do in a post-Abu Ghraib era if you're detained by American forces is to allege detainee abuse. So this is nothing new. We've seen repeated cases of this since the whole conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have began.

Kenniff also relayed to viewers that the troops are determined to prove their innocence in court which could give them jail time rather than plead guilty for a light punishment. Kenniff:

In this particular case, these individuals have said, you know, thanks, but no thanks, we’re maintaining our innocence. If you want to try and bring a case against us, you’ll do it via courts-martial.

Below are transcripts of relevant portions of FNC coverage of the story from the Wednesday, November 25, Special Report with Brit Hume, and the Thursday, November 26, Fox and Friends :

#From the Wednesday, November 25, Special Report with Bret Baier:

CHRIS WALLACE: One of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq has been captured by American commandos. But national correspondent Steve Centanni reports three of the Navy SEALs responsible for that capture are now in trouble themselves. A warning, some of the video in this report is graphic.

STEVE CENTANNI: It was March of 2004. Fallujah was a hotbed of insurgent activity. Four Blackwater contractors were ambushed and killed. Their bodies were mutilated and burned, then dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River. The man believed to have planned that attack, Ahmed Hashim Abed, was known to the U.S. military as "Objective Amber" and had long evaded capture. But when a team of Navy SEALs finally did catch up with him in September of this year, they weren't hailed as heroes. Instead, three of them were brought up on charges. Only one is accused of actual assault. He's 24-year-old Matthew McCabe, originally from Perryville, Ohio – a member of SEAL Team 10 based in Norfolk, Virginia.

AUDIO OF NEAL PUCKETT, ATTORNEY OF MATTHEW MCCABE: It's incredibly unfair given the lack of severity of the alleged misconduct.

CENTANNI: When Abed was captured, he was brought to Camp Baharia, a U.S. base just two miles outside Fallujah. According to one attorney in the case, Abed was turned over to the Iraqis by mistake and was later returned to U.S. custody. There are differing reports that he was punched in the gut and was hit in the face.

PUCKETT: The possibility is that the blood was caused by a self-inflicted wound to his face so that he could later claim that he was abused.

CENTANNI: The defendant's lawyers are trying to get government evidence, including any medical exams or photos. A Navy SEAL who was part of the team that captured Abed and later saw him in custody filed a statement saying, "I gave the detainee a glance over and then left. I did not notice anything wrong with the detainee, and he appeared to be in good health." The SEALs could have had an administrative hearing, facing no possibility of jail time or dishonorable discharge. But instead, they chose a court-martial that could, if they're convicted, land them behind bars and end their military careers.

TOM KENNIFF, DEFENSE ATTORNEY/FMR JAG LAWYER: Now what the soldiers are basically doing is calling the military's bluff saying, hey, we want a trial, we want to exonerate ourselves.

CENTANNI: Kenniff says the Navy SEALs could be the victims of a new military attitude toward detainees.

KENNIFF: I mean, it is very hard to equate. I mean, we understand, look, you know, in the wake of Abu Ghraib and all the fallout, the military is extremely hypersensitive to these type issues.

CENTANNI: The Navy SEALs are free pending their courts-martial. An arraignment is set for next month, and then three separate military trials will be held beginning January 17 in Norfolk, Virginia.

#From the Thursday, November 26, Fox and Friends:

RICK FOLBAUM: Three Navy SEALs captured one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq, but they are now getting dragged into court for allegedly giving the terrorist a fat lip. Now faced with a court-martial, what are the legal options for these guys? I'm joined by criminal defense attorney and former JAG officer Thomas Keniff. ... First of all, how does it get to the point where a suspected terrorist is able to level charges against our Navy SEALS?

TOM KENNIFF, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, look, this is right out of the, you know, al-Qaeda employee handbook. I mean, they tell their guys, look, the first thing to do in a post-Abu Ghraib era if you’re detained by American forces is to allege detainee abuse. So this is nothing new. We’ve seen repeated cases of this since the whole conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have began.

FOLBAUM: Now, the SEALs turned down, I guess, a non-judicial route. First of all, what does that mean?

KENNIFF: Non-judicial punishment. In the Navy, they usually refer to it as an admirable's mass. In the Army we call it an Article 15. Best comparison I can kind of come up with is think of an administrative hearing or an arbitration in the civilian world. You basically, you know, tell these soldiers, these Navy seamen that, look, you know, if you elect non-judicial punishment, we basically, you know, you’re going to protect yourself against the possibility of jail and you’re going to protect yourself against a dishonorable discharge. And the only punishment that you might be facing is sort of, you know, noncriminal in nature, restricted duty, reduction in rank, maybe some forfeiture in pay and that's it. In this particular case, these individuals have said, you know, thanks, but no thanks, we’re maintaining our innocence. If you want to try and bring a case against us, you’ll do it via courts-martial.

FOLBAUM: What happens? I mean, if they are found guilty of this, what are they facing? Are they looking at possibly being discharged from the military?

KENNIFF: They’re looking at a possible dishonorable discharge as well as a possible five-year jail sentence for that one charge alone for offering a false written statement. That charge alone could carry with it a maximum of five years jail. It doesn’t mean they’re going to get that, but it’s still some, you know, it’s a high stakes case for these guys.

FOLBAUM: This seems crazy to me and I'm sure to a lot of other people out there. These are heroes who are putting their lives on the line trying to track down terrorists who want to kill Americans. If one guy gets socked in the mouth, I mean, I'm sorry, that's the price of doing business. If you want to to be a terrorist, I mean, that's just the way that it goes.

KENNIFF: He’s not a very nice guy. This is where it gets interesting. This is why I think this is a brilliant move on the part of these individuals, the individual Navy men as well as their attorney. You know, in the United States, we have something via the Sixth Amendment as you know known as the Confrontation Clause. Now, in non-judicial punishment context that would look more like an administrative hearing. The standard of proof would be much lower for the government. However, in a courts-martial these individuals are going to have the right to face their accuser. Who’s their accuser in this case? This, you know, dirt bag terrorist. So they’re putting the government in the very precarious situation of now if they want to go forward and prosecute them via courts-martial, who’s their star witness going to be? They’re going to have to bring this guy into court, you know, this loathsome figure that orchestrated this terrible murder of these four civilians in Fallujah and put them on the witness stand as their witness-in-chief. Tough situation.

FOLBAUM: We’re looking at a trial that could start, I'm told in January. So we’ll be following the story very closely.

...

RICK FOLBAUM: Well, here’s a story we’ve been talking about this morning. Three Navy SEALs captured one of the most notorious, most wanted terrorists for the 2004 murder of four Blackwater agents. This was in Fallujah. You remember this story. But instead of being honored, the elite SEAL commandos are now facing criminal charges for allegedly giving the terrorist a bloody lip. Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson, Jr., joining us now. ... This case, I think, to a lot of people, is appalling, that these heroes would go and capture this guy only to now have to face these charges.

PETER JOHNSON JR. You know, we give thanks for our troops and we send our prayers to them today, and you have to pray for the families of three members of SEAL Team 10, out of Little Creek, Virginia, who are now being pilloried in the world press for allegedly either punching Ahmad Hashim Abed who is accused of murdering these operators for America, in 2004, in Fallujah, hanging them, burning them, dragging them through the streets and then parading their bodies over the Euphrates. The allegation against these three members of the SEALS is that they either split his lip or punched him in the stomach. We don’t know the exact details. They’ve only been brought forth exclusively by Fox News. But on this Thanksgiving, you have to believe in and understand – or perhaps hope – that the President is saying to himself – because he’s a man of great common sense – what are we doing to ourselves, what are we doing to our troops to put these heroic young men under this prism, under this microscope, not only of suspicion, but of accusation?

FOLBAUM: So you say the President should pardon them right now before this gets any further?

JOHNSON: What I’m saying is that Army Major General Charles Cleveland, who is the commander of that unit, who is going to preside over this court-martial, there will be a court-martial beginning in January to prosecute and/or jail and/or separate these men from the Navy by virtue of their conduct with regard to this war criminal. We don’t have all the details as to what went on. If they engaged in torture, then they should be prosecuted, but the indications are, at this point, that this calls for the discretion of, A, the commanders of our military, and if they don’t step up to the plate, yes, the Secretary of Defense, say to them, "Listen, have some common sense. What are we doing to ourselves?" And if the Secretary of Defense doesn’t stand up, then the President needs to stand up and say, "Yes, listen, even if they made a mistake, even if there was a bloody lip, even if there was a punch in the gut, we’re in a war. And as a matter of discretion, as the Commander-in-Chief, I say step away, let these men go, let these men go forward with their proud military careers." It’s an abomination. And we can only pray on this Thanksgiving that the President – in his prayers today – is thinking about these men because a lot of Americans are.