The Navy has decided to drop detainee-abuse charges against a group of four Navy SEALs.
The would-be case concerned reports of participating in and supervising the beating a group of suspected Taliban in 2012.
At the time, the SEAL platoon concerned was working with an Afghan police unit when one of their checkpoints was attacked by a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED). A police officer was killed. His colleagues arrested a group of suspected Taliban. Their interrogation quickly turned out to an all-out beating, and one of the suspects died.
Three of the SEALs, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Daniel D’Ambrosio, Special Operator Chief Petty Officer David Swarts, and Special Operator Chief Petty Officer Xavier Silva, were accused of participating in the beating, whereas Lieutenant Jason Webb was charged with failing to supervise his subordinates.
Following a series of non-judicial punishments (NJP), the Navy decided to proceed to a court-martial after a New York Times report resurfaced the story in 2015. But now, the Navy’s legal authorities have decided to drop the case because “the evidence from the 2012 case has degraded to the point where they [the Navy’s prosecutors] believe obtaining convictions is no longer likely,” as Brian O’Rourke, a spokesman for Navy Region Southwest, said in a press statement.
But the SEALs haven’t been the only ones faced with such charges. The issue transcends the Naval Special Warfare community and concerns both other American and coalition Special Operations Forces (SOF) units. Charges of abusing or mistreating Taliban, al-Qaeda, or ISIS prisoners have been rather common throughout the duration of the war in Afghanistan.
Last year, a Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was pulled out from the country over allegations of facilitating the killing of an Afghan commando who killed a Czech operator in a Blue-on-Green attack. The Green Berets were working together with the Czech 601 Special Forces Group when the Afghan killed Corporal Tomáš Procházka and wounded two other Czechs. Cpl. Procházka was a military working dog (MWD) handler.
According to reports, the 7th SFG Green Berets helped in transferring the Afghan commando to the hands of the Czechs for interrogation. And when the Afghan authorities came to take the man into custody later on the day, he had been allegedly beaten unconscious and died shortly thereafter.
And there’s also the ongoing legal saga of Major Matthew Golsteyn. A Special Forces officer, Major Golsteyn has been charged with the premeditated murder a suspected bombmaker again in Afghanistan in 2010. Initially, the Army didn’t have sufficient evidence to charge Major Golsteyn. But in 2016, when the SF officer was applying for a job with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the case resurfaced as he admitted the murder during a routine polygraph test. The CIA informed the Army and the case was reopened. Major Golsteyn is currently awaiting his trial, which was once more postponed and is scheduled to take place in November.
The fog and adrenaline of war can lead good, moral men to immoral actions. And regardless if these actions are committed for a just cause, they signal a lack of professionalism that it’s easy to spiral out of control.