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SEAL Officer Court Martialed for Iraqi Detainee Death

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Meanwhile, there is a trial under way in San Diego for a member of the Navy's elite SEALs unit. He's charged with allowing his men to beat an Iraqi prisoner who later died. He's Lieutenant Andrew Ledford. The trial raises also some questions about what the CIA did in Iraq, as NPR's John McChesney reports.

JOHN McCHESNEY reporting:

It's unlikely that Lieutenant Ledford would be facing a court-martial if an Iraqi citizen named Manadel al-Jamadi hadn't died while being interrogated by the CIA in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison over a year and a half ago. Al-Jamadi had been captured by Ledford's Foxtrot SEAL platoon hours earlier and delivered to the CIA. Photographs of al-Jamadi's iced-down corpse emerged in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and triggered an investigation into his death.

The SEALs were working closely with the CIA near Baghdad in 2003 as the insurgency began to boil over. Using CIA intelligence, the SEALs were tasked with killing or capturing what were called high-value targets. Manadel al-Jamadi was suspected of killing 11 people in the bombing of a Red Cross facility, so in the middle of the night the SEALs broke into his apartment and, after a fierce struggle, cuffed and hooded him and threw him into the back of a Humvee. Ledford and his men are charged with punching, kicking and beating al-Jamadi with rifles after the capture.

But before capturing al-Jamadi, the SEALs had blown the door off an apartment only to discover they were in the wrong place. One platoon member, Dan Cerrillo, testified at the court-martial that they'd received faulty intelligence from the CIA, adding a sarcastic `as usual.' Shortly after that remark, Cerrillo, who fought and had subdued al-Jamadi, revealed a bitterness felt by some members of Ledford's platoon. Saying he was not happy to be in the courtroom, he added about the charges against his platoon, `I don't think this whole thing was right.' Cerrillo testified that on another night he beat a handcuffed prisoner for five minutes, sometimes with heavy force, while working with a CIA interrogator. He said he was told not to strike the prisoner in the face because it would be hard to turn him in.

Manadel al-Jamadi was delivered to the CIA walking under his own power, and died roughly an hour later in the shower room at Abu Ghraib. He was in CIA custody as one of the prison's so-called `ghost detainees.' The Associated Press reported that documents show he died while suspended by his wrists with his arms tied behind him. Lieutenant Ledford is charged with allowing his men to beat al-Jamadi for roughly 20 minutes at a forward operating base before handing him over to the CIA, but none of the government witnesses could verify that Ledford saw the beating or participated in it. The prosecution presented a sworn statement from Ledford saying that he had punched al-Jamadi in the arm, but the defense claims that Ledford was tricked into that admission during an eight-hour interrogation, during which he was told he might be charged with manslaughter. The prosecution rested its case yesterday. The defense begins today. John McChesney, NPR News, San Diego.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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John McChesney
Since 1979 senior correspondent John McChesney has been with NPR, where he has served as national editor (responsible for domestic news) and senior foreign editor. Over the course of his career with NPR, McChesney covered a variety of beats and traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. His reports can be heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, and newscasts.
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