San Diego – A CIA official testified he witnessed the “pummelling” of a detainee at a Navy Seal base in Baghdad in 2003, but a former Seal who beat the prisoner said he was acting on instructions from the CIA.
The differing accounts were offered as the court-martial of Navy Seal Lieutenant Andrew Ledford got under way on Tuesday. Ledford, accused of charges including assault, dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer, faces a maximum of 11 years in military prison if convicted.
The CIA official, who was shielded from public view, testified he recalled seeing a small crowd gathered around a Seal who was landing blows on the back of the prisoner who lay face down.
The CIA official described it “as a kind of pummelling” and called it an isolated incident during his year in Iraq. He said his senior officer notified a Seal commander at the scene to get control of his men and halt the abuse.
“I never saw anything like that prior with this unit or any other unit and I never saw anything like that again,” the CIA official said.
Prosecutors have cited the October 20 2003, beating as one of three examples of detainee abuse committed by members of a Seal platoon commanded by Ledford. The allegedly beaten prisoner was not named.
The former Seal, Dan Cerrillo, said he beat the prisoner because he believed he was subject to the orders of “the people we’re not supposed to talk about” – an apparent reference to CIA agents who often worked on missions with the Seals to capture suspected insurgents and other so-called high-value targets.
“The interrogator would say make him talk and I would try to make him talk,” Cerrillo said. He said he struck, pushed and shoved the hooded and handcuffed detainee’s head into the sand about 10 to 15 times using what he characterised as a mix of moderate and heavy force.
Cerrillo, who served under Ledford and received a Purple Heart for injuries he sustained in Iraq, was one of eight members of Seal Team Seven who received administrative punishment earlier this year for their roles in detainee abuse. He left the navy this month and works for a private security company.
The only alleged attack that resulted in the death of a detainee involved Manadel al-Jamadi, a suspect in the bombing a month earlier of Red Cross offices in Iraq that killed 12 people. Cerrillo and other platoon members allegedly kicked, punched and stuck al-Jamadi with their rifle muzzles at an army base. They also posed for photos with the hooded and handcuffed detainee.
Al-Jamadi died on November 4 in a shower room at Abu Ghraib during a CIA interrogation. Documents show that army guards said al-Jamadi died while suspended by his wrists, which were handcuffed behind his back.