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US Navy SEAL acquitted of Iraqi prisoner assault charges

[JURIST] A US military panel in Iraq on Thursday acquitted Navy SEAL [official website] Julio Huertas of any wrongdoing in connection with the alleged assault of a high-profile Iraqi detainee. A six-person jury found Huertas not guilty [AP report] on charges of dereliction of duty and impeding an investigation for taking no action while a fellow SEAL allegedly punched and kicked Iraqi prisoner Ahmed Hashim Abed. US authorities believe Abed to be the mastermind behind the 2004 Blackwater [JURIST news archive] contractor killings in Falluja. A US military judge ruled [JURIST report] in January that Huertas's court-martial would be held at Camp Victory [GlobalSecurity Backgrounder] in Baghdad, Iraq, so that Abed could testify against him. Two other Navy SEALs, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Keefe and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew McCabe, have also been charged in connection with the incident, and their trial is scheduled to begin Friday.

Detainee abuse has been a major issue during the Iraq war. In September 2008, the UK Defense Ministry [official website] admitted [JURIST report] the unlawful abuse of nine detainees and announced monetary compensation. Three British soldiers were ultimately convicted [JURIST report], and dishonorably discharged. In 2005, another Navy SEAL was charged [JURIST report] with assault, dereliction of duty, and conduct unbecoming of an officer stemming from the treatment of an Iraqi prisoner. Abuse of detainees during the Iraq War [JURIST news archive] first garnered international attention after the 2004 release of pictures depicting prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison [CBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in Iraq.

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