NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A military jury in Virginia found a Navy SEAL not guilty Thursday on charges of punching a suspected Iraqi terrorist.
Jurors deliberated about an hour and 40 minutes before returning their verdict in the court-martial of Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe.
The 24-year-old Perrysburg, Ohio, man was tried at Naval Station Norfolk on accusations of assaulting Ahmed Hashim Abed, who is suspected of plotting the 2004 slayings of four U.S. contractors in Fallujah.
The prosecution’s key witness had testified he saw McCabe deliver a right cross to Abed’s midsection. However, several defense witnesses contradicted portions of that testimony.
A Navy prosecutor said in closing arguments that SEALs were trying to protect one of their own.
“They circled the wagons,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jason Grover. “They don’t want Petty Officer McCabe to be held responsible for this.”
A defense lawyer said he found that suggestion offensive.
Several defense witnesses contradicted the testimony of Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin DeMartino, who said he saw McCabe slug the detainee in the stomach. Those witnesses also testified that McCabe, a decorated SEAL, was known for strong character, integrity and truthfulness.
“Don’t be blinded by medals,” Grover told the jury. “Everyone is equally accountable to do the right thing.”
Defense attorney Haytham Faraj said the prosecution was asking the jury to take the word of a terrorist and a sailor who admitted initially lying about the incident over the testimony of numerous other witnesses.
“I disagree with the concept that the SEALs are covering up. It’s actually pretty offensive,” Faraj said.
The defense suggested throughout the trial that Abed employed a standard terrorist tactic of feigning injury, perhaps even biting his own lip to spill blood onto his clothing.
“We’re here because a mass murderer, a vile person cloaked in a human body, claims he was beaten,” Faraj said.
Grover said there was another reason McCabe was prosecuted.
“We uphold the rules and we’re better than the terrorists. That’s why we’re here,” Grover said.
Two other SEALs who were accused of covering up the assault were acquitted last month in Iraq after a judge heard much of the same evidence and testimony that was presented in McCabe’s trial.
McCabe’s trial was held in Virginia because unlike the other two SEALS he did not insist on confronting his accuser in court. Prosecutors played an audio recording of Abed’s deposition at McCabe’s trial.
McCabe was charged with assault, dereliction of duty and lying to investigators. He could have received up to a year in jail if convicted.