Three members of an elite Navy SEAL team conducting operations in Iraq have been charged with several crimes in detainee abuses that included at least two deaths, Navy officials announced yesterday, bringing the total number of SEAL team members from the same unit charged with such crimes to seven.
The three sailors, who were not identified by name, are charged with counts that include assault with a dangerous weapon, aggravated assault with intent to cause death or serious bodily harm, and maltreatment of detainees. While none of the six SEALs and one support sailor has been charged with manslaughter or homicide, investigators have linked some of them to at least two detainee deaths in Iraq, in November 2003 and April 2004, Navy officials said.
One of the deaths was the highly publicized case of a detainee who died in CIA custody at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison on Nov. 4, 2003, a case Army officials have said began when a group of SEALs took the detainee into custody and violently struggled with him. That detainee was handed over to CIA operatives; military police officers at the prison later photographed his corpse packed in ice.
Pentagon officials acknowledged the second case earlier this year with the release of sparsely filled-out death certificates, but there have been few details on it until now.
According to two Pentagon officials speaking on the condition of anonymity because the death is part of an ongoing investigation, that detainee was captured in the far northern reaches of Iraq in early April and was seriously roughed up by the SEALs as he resisted. He died in Mosul on April 5.
In many ways, that death mirrored the Abu Ghraib case, and according to Navy officials it was linked to the same unit, Navy SEAL Team 7, which was carrying out clandestine operations in Iraq with the CIA. The team, which includes about 200 members, was working to find important insurgent and terrorist targets.
Identified in official death certificates as Fashad Mohamed, a male detainee of unspecified age, he was taken into custody on the battlefield near the Army's Diamondback logistics support area. Mohamed appeared at the facility having sustained unspecified injuries, officials said, apparently after he fought the SEALs at his capture.
"He was interrogated and was then allowed to sleep," said a Pentagon official familiar with the investigative reports. "At some point in the early hours of April 5th, he was found unresponsive."
The official death certificate for Mohamed, dated May 14, lists no details about the nature of his injuries or the cause of death, saying only that both are "pending." A spokesman for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, which is in charge of the autopsy, said last night that Mohamed's death remains under investigation and that no details or conclusions about his cause of death have been determined.
The seven members of the elite Navy force charged with detainee abuses equal the number of military police soldiers facing charges of abuse for allegedly mistreating detainees at Abu Ghraib. While the MP abuses were captured on digital cameras and created an international firestorm, none of the MP soldiers has been implicated in a homicide or suspicious death.
A Navy official said yesterday that none of the SEALs has been specifically charged with a homicide because there is no conclusive evidence that anything they did caused a detainee to die, as both cases investigated so far involved people who died in the custody of the CIA and the Army. Cmdr. Jeffrey Bender, a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego, said the investigation is still open and more charges could arise.
Researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.