A former Navy SEAL testifying under a grant of immunity said he first witnessed prisoner abuse a week after his arrival in Iraq in October 2003.
The sailor, whose identity was not revealed, recalled an incident during which a hooded and handcuffed detainee was kneed, punched and had his testicles twisted by SEALs in the back of a Humvee.
The scene, he said, reminded him of pro wrestling.
The sailor served in Iraq under a Navy SEAL lieutenant who faced an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury, at Naval Base San Diego. The hearing will continue Wednesday.
The lieutenant, who also was not identified, is accused of punching Iraqi Manadel al-Jamadi and allowing other Navy personnel to abuse the prisoner, who died a short time later at Abu Ghraib prison. Al-Jamadi, a suspect in the bombing of a Red Cross facility, was captured in November 2003 by SEALs during a joint special forces-CIA mission.
Nine other SEALs were implicated in the investigation started by the sailor, who was kicked out of the SEALs last year after he was found guilty of stealing another commando’s body armor in Iraq.
The sailor said he witnessed alleged abuse in Iraq on five to 10 other occasions; the lieutenant was present for most of the episodes but did nothing to stop it, he said. The abuse continued, but less frequently, after the SEALs were instructed by a senior officer to stop mistreating detainees, he testified.
“These were my friends, my comrades,” he said, noting he struggled whether to come forward about the abuse. “It wasn’t easy at all.”
Frank Spinner, a civilian defense attorney, said he was filing a formal objection to the proceeding because he cannot attend and the Navy has refused to grant a delay. The lieutenant’s military defense attorney, who attended the hearing, made repeated objections to the proceeding, setting the stage for a possible appeal.
Also Tuesday, testimony came from another witness, an explosive ordnance disposal technician who also served in Iraq under the accused SEAL lieutenant. The unnamed petty officer, who was not a SEAL, pleaded guilty to charges of abuse and maltreatment earlier in the day as part of a plea bargain.
The petty officer, who participated in the mission to capture al-Jamadi, said he kicked the hooded and handcuffed prisoner in the abdomen when the man started speaking in Arabic. He said he later kicked and punched al-Jamadi again when he spoke Arabic.
“Looking back, I feel there was a time when it might have gotten out of hand,” the petty officer testified.
In one photograph that was part of a court exhibit, the accused SEAL lieutenant is seen holding up a can of Red Bull energy drink while he and other members of his unit pose around al-Jamadi. In another photo, the petty officer and another member of the team point their guns at al-Jamadi’s head. Navy regulations forbid all unofficial detainee photographs.