Navy drops detainee abuse charges against four SEALs

By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 7, 2019

WASHINGTON — Detainee abuse charges against four Navy SEALs stemming from a 2012 incident in Afghanistan were dismissed Tuesday by Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, days after she was removed as the convening authority in the court-martial of Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher.

Three of the SEALs, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Daniel D’Ambrosio and Special Operator Chief Petty Officers David Swarts and Xavier Silva, were accused of abusing detainees in May 2012 at their Afghanistan base, Village Stability Platform Kalach in Uruzgan province, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The SEALs’ commander, Lt. Jason Webb, was also charged.

Bolivar, who is the commander of Navy Region Southwest, dismissed all charges against the four SEALs after military prosecutors informed her that “the evidence from the 2012 case has degraded to the point where they believe obtaining convictions is no longer likely,” Brian O’Rourke, a spokesman for Navy Region Southwest, said in a prepared statement. The cases fell under the jurisdiction of Navy Region Southwest, which is based in San Diego.

On Aug. 3, Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, took over responsibility as convening authority in the Gallagher court-martial after taking control of the case away from Bolivar, according to the Navy. A reason for Richardson’s decision was unclear Wednesday.

Two weeks ago, the Navy’s top SEAL, Rear Adm. Collin Green, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, wrote in a letter to the elite force that he had ordered an ethics review of the command, telling them that “we have a problem” within the community, after it has been plagued by allegations of crimes and other misconduct. Problems in the SEALs ranks have ranged in recent years from accusations of war crimes and drug use to complaints of sexual assault, child pornography and molestation. One SEAL, Senior Chief Petty Officer Adam Matthews, a former member of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or SEAL Team 6, was convicted this year in the 2017 strangling death of Green Beret Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar in Mali.

The charges against the SEALs dismissed Tuesday stemmed from an incident where Afghan police working with the SEALs detained a group of Afghan men after a bombing at a checkpoint killed one of the policemen. The Afghan police beat the detainees using a rifle butt, rocks and sticks, according to witness statements in a Navy Criminal Investigative Service report published by the New York Times. The three SEALs were accused of participating in the beatings and, at some point, one prisoner died.

Webb was accused of failing to supervise them and Afghan militiamen during their interrogation of the detainees and for filing a false report about the events, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

In 2012, D’Ambrosio, Silva, and Swarts were initially given administrative nonjudicial punishments, which can include reduced pay. However after the New York Times in 2015 reported the detainee abuses and the alleged cover-up, the SEALs faced more serious charges, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. It was unclear Wednesday what administrative nonjudicial punishments the SEALs were given.

In the Gallagher court-martial, Richardson will now oversee any post-trial actions, including sentencing, the Navy said. Gallagher was acquitted in July of murdering an Islamic State prisoner, though he was found guilty of posing in photos with the dead ISIS fighter.

His lawyers are working to lessen the jury’s sentence for the Navy SEAL, which reduced his rank by one grade to E-6, docked his pay for two months, and sentenced him to four months in jail, which he had already served in pretrial confinement, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

On Aug. 1, Richardson dismissed all charges, including conduct unbecoming an officer, against SEAL Lt. Jacob Portier for having a re-enlistment ceremony for Gallagher next to the dead body of the ISIS fighter who Gallagher was accused of stabbing to death when the prisoner was being treated for injuries, according to The Associated Press. Richardson also decided not to allow any actions to be taken against Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, who confessed during Gallagher’s trial to killing the ISIS fighter, according to the AP. Scott had been given immunity by the prosecution to testify at the trial.

Richardson said he did this “in the best interest of justice and the Navy,” according to a Navy statement. The CNO also called for a comprehensive review into the leadership and performance of the Judge Advocate General corps.

Twitter: @caitlinmkenney