(CNSNews.com) – A former military lawyer now serving in Congress called the court martial of three Navy SEALs who captured a terrorist suspected of killing four Americans “absolutely ridiculous.”
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) served four years in the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps and served as the special assistant U.S. attorney at Fort Hood, Texas, prosecuting all civilian crimes at the post. He later taught constitutional and criminal law at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
He believes the SEALs case represents a larger systemic problem. The SEALs are accused of allegedly abusing terrorist Ahmed Hashim Abed by supposedly punching him and then lying about the incident. Abed is the reported architect of the murder of four Blackwater USA security guards in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004, the bodies of whom were burned and hanged from a bridge.
“Never before in the history of this country, as much as now, does somebody [in the military] have to wonder is this going to get me thrown into Leavenworth for the rest of my life?” Rooney told CNSNews.com.
“Certainly, we want to take the high road, and we want to have the highest standards,” he said. “But we also need to have clear rules of engagement. That’s incumbent on us to maintain the leadership role, and the Department of Defense. And court martialing three SEALs for maybe or maybe not punching some guy in the stomach without any kind of corroborating evidence I don’t think is sending the right message.”
The three SEALs are Matthew McCabe, 24, of Perrysburg, Ohio; Julio Huertas, 28, of Blue Island, Ill.; and Jonathon Keefe, 25, of Yorktown, Va. Each is charged with dereliction of duty for failing to protect the terror suspect, Abed, and with making false statements.
McCabe is charged with assault for allegedly punching the terror suspect in the mid-section, while Huertas is charged with impeding an investigation. They face up to a year in military confinement and a bad conduct discharge if convicted.
The government has not produced evidence for the defense, the defense attorneys said. However, McCabe’s attorney, Neal Puckett, told CNSNews.com on Tuesday that he has an unconfirmed report that the evidence is in the mail. Puckett said he has not yet received it.
Rooney was one of 40 members of Congress who signed a letter to Major General Charles Cleveland, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command Central, asking him to drop the charges.
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Rooney. “The line between being given a medal and being court martialed nowadays is not discernable. It’s just so frustrating for me as a former judge advocate, as somebody who taught the laws of war at West Point. Our job is to advise commanders on what lawful targets are and what the rules of engagement are, and what you do toward prisoners who are detainees.
“I’m not saying that Abu Ghraib was not an absolute disaster, because it was,” Rooney said. “But that doesn’t mean that we have to kowtow to every little complaint that somebody might make that may or may not be valid and threaten non-judicial punishment or judicial punishment to these SEALs when the only evidence we have of any mistreatment is from the detainee himself,” he added.
“So I just think it’s unfortunate that we seem, we want to justify to hold our own people accountable when there is a lot that should be celebrated about the people in uniform,” Rooney said.