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Navy SEAL acquitted of assaulting Iraqi detainee

From Laurie Ure, CNN
Navy SEAL Matthew McCabe is accused of assaulting  detainee Ahmed Hashim Abed in Iraq.
Navy SEAL Matthew McCabe is accused of assaulting detainee Ahmed Hashim Abed in Iraq.
  • Jury didn't deliberate long in case of Navy SEAL accused of assault
  • Defendant Matthew McCabe does not testify
  • Witnesses testifed McCabe punched Iraqi detainee
  • Two others already had been acquitted of charges related to beating

Norfolk, Virginia (CNN) -- Navy SEAL Matthew McCabe, who was accused of punching an Iraqi detainee, was found not guilty on all charges by a military jury Thursday.

McCabe, a 24-year-old petty officer 2nd class, had been charged with assaulting Iraqi detainee Ahmed Hashim Abed, who was arrested in September in Iraq for allegedly orchestrating the 2004 murders of four U.S. contractors in Falluja. The contractors' burned bodies were later hung from a bridge.

Besides assault, McCabe had been charged with dereliction of duty for failing to protect a prisoner and with lying to investigators.

"It's over and done with," McCabe said at a press conference after the four day court-martial. "We're moving on with our careers."

Two other Navy SEALs -- Petty Officer Jonathan Keefe and Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas -- were charged with dereliction of duty for allegedly abusing the same detainee, but were acquitted in April in military court in Iraq.

Maj. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the convening authority in all three cases, on Thursday defended his decision to let the courts-martial go forward.

"Despite the opinions of some who preferred that these charges not proceed, I allowed these charges to go forward because I truly believe that the best process known for uncovering the truth, when the facts are contested, is that process which is found in our adversarial justice system," Cleveland said in a statement after McCabe's acquittal.

"There is no better way to discover the truth than by presenting the evidence to an unbiased panel of members, having witnesses testify under oath, and having rigorous cross examination," he said.

One of two defense witnesses, Huertas said Thursday he was with McCabe during the alleged incident and did not see McCabe strike the detainee.

The second defense witness, Dr. Curtis Schmidt, said blood found on Abed's clothing could have been caused by Abed biting a canker sore. During cross-examination, Schmidt, who phoned in his testimony from Iraq, also said the bleeding could have been caused if Abed fell.

On Wednesday, the government's key witness, Petty Officer Kevin Demartino, testified that he saw McCabe hit Abed in the abdomen.

Demartino, who is not a SEAL, testified that he did not initially report the September assault to his superiors because "this is these guys' lives. Some guys can see something and start singing like a bird. I couldn't do it," he said.

"I should've done it. By the book, it's a failure to report," he added.

Demartino testified that his conscience eventually got the better of him, so he finally reported his version of the events surrounding the detainee's beating.

"It was either being in the good graces of the SEALs or being in the good graces of God," Demartino said.

McCabe's defense attorneys called a series of witnesses who questioned Demartino's version of events and said he was distraught due to his deployment. Some directly contradicted Demartino, saying that statements he attributed to them during his testimony were false.

"He had issues," McCabe said of Demartino after his verdict was announced. "Everybody made that clear."