An Iraqi prisoner suspected of masterminding an attack that killed four American contractors testified Wednesday he was beaten by U.S. troops while hooded and tied to a chair in the opening day of a court-martial of a Navy SEAL from Blue Island.
The trial stems from an attack on four Blackwater security contractors who were driving through the city of Fallujah west of Baghdad in early 2004. The men were killed and then crowds dragged two of the burnt bodies through the streets and hanged them from a bridge over the Euphrates River — pictures that became iconic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Images of the burnt bodies of Americans hanging from the bridge drove home to many the rising power of the insurgency and helped spark a bloody U.S. invasion of the city to root out the insurgents.
Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas, of Blue Island, Illinois, is the first of three Navy SEALs to go on trial in connection with the alleged assault. Two other trials are scheduled for a later date.
Huertas is not accused of actually abusing the prisoner but of failing to safeguard him and attempting to influence the testimony of another service member.
The 28-year-old Huertas, wearing his blue Navy uniform, appeared in a military courtroom at Camp Victory on Baghdad's western outskirts to answer charges of dereliction of duty and impeding an official investigation. He has pleaded not guilty.
During Ahmed Hashim Abed hour-long testimony, he said he was sitting in a chair with his hands bound behind him — a hood over his head — when he was hit from behind on the shoulder and back and fell to his knees and was then picked back up and struck in the stomach.
One of Huertas' military attorneys showed the court photographs of Abed after the alleged beating. There was a visible cut inside his lip, but no obvious signs of bruising or injuries anywhere else.
"It was very powerful. It was so hard I fell down again on my face because my hands were behind my back," he said, speaking Arabic through an interpreter. On the ground, he said he was kicked in his side and legs.
"Once I was down they put their foot in my shoulder; I started saying 'please, please' — these were the only words that I knew," he testified.
Abed was arrested last September on charges of orchestrating the killings of the four Blackwater security contractors.
The attorney asked Abed: "You're the mastermind behind the Blackwater bridge massacre aren't you?"
"I have nothing to do with this," the witness replied.
In earlier testimony, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin Demartino, who was assigned to process and transport Abed, testified he saw Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe, another SEAL accused in the case, punch the prisoner in the stomach, and blood come from the prisoner's mouth.