SEALs Accused of Covering Up Fatal Detainee Abuse in Afghanistan

U.S. soldiers and Navy support personnel mentioned in a Navy criminal investigation report have accused SEAL Team Two members and Afghan policemen of beating several detainees in Afghanistan back in 2012, including one who succumbed to his injuries.

The investigation report, prepared by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, was obtained by The New York Times (NYT) through the Freedom of Information Act.

SEAL Team Two members failed to report the abuse of the detainees.

Despite the accusations by fellow American troops, the criminal investigation, and a Navy lawyer’s recommendation that the SEALs face assault charges, the Navy SEAL command decided against a court-martial and cleared its men of wrongdoing.

SEAL Capt. Robert Smith, who oversaw the case, conceded it was “evident” that the Afghan policemen had mistreated the detainees and that the SEALs had not reported it, yet he dismissed charges against his fellow Navy men for failing to make such a report.

Four members of Navy SEAL Team 2 — Petty Officer First Class David Swarts, Petty Officer First Class Daniel D’Ambrosio, Petty Officer Second Class Xavier Silva, and Lt. Jason Webb — were accused of being involved in the detainee episode, which took place in southern Afghanistan, at a U.S. outpost in Kalach, Oruzgan Province.

Petty Officers Swarts, D’Ambrosio, and Silva took the lead in questioning the detainees while their officer, Lt. Webb, was elsewhere in the base, U.S. soldiers who provided security at the U.S. outpost while the SEALs helped Afghan policemen interrogate the prisoners told investigators.

In May 2012, members of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) brought an estimated six to eight detainees to the U.S. outpost in Kalach, according to the investigation.

The detainees were reportedly accused of detonating an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), also known as a homemade bomb, at a nearby police checkpoint, killing an ALP member.

“The three Navy SEALs stomped on the bound Afghan detainees and dropped heavy stones on their chests, the witnesses recalled,” reports the Times. “They stood on the prisoners’ heads and poured bottles of water on some of their faces in what, to a pair of Army soldiers, appeared to be an improvised form of waterboarding.” The Times adds:

A few hours earlier, shortly after dawn on May 31, 2012, a bomb had exploded at a checkpoint manned by an Afghan Local Police unit that the SEALs were training. Angered by the death of one of their comrades in the blast, the police militiamen had rounded up half a dozen or more suspects from a market in the village of Kalach and forced them to a nearby American outpost. Along the way, they beat them with rifle butts and car antennas.

Instead of putting a stop to the assault, men from SEAL Team Two joined in, the Times learned from U.S. Army Spc. David Walker, a medic who witnessed the incident first-hand.

One of the SEALs “jump-kicked this guy kneeling on the ground,” Spc. Walker told NYT.

Walker and several other soldiers reportedly recounted that two others joined and, along with the ALP members, beat the detainees so badly that one died by dusk.

“The four American soldiers working with the SEALs reported the episode, which has not previously been disclosed,” notes NYT. “In a Navy criminal investigation, two Navy support personnel said they had witnessed some abuse by the SEALs, as did a local police officer. Separately, an Afghan detained with the man who died provided a detailed account of mistreatment by American troops and Afghan militiamen in an interview with The New York Times.”

“The SEAL command, though, cleared the Team 2 members of wrongdoing in a closed disciplinary process that is typically used only for minor infractions, disregarding a Navy lawyer’s recommendation that the troops face assault charges and choosing not to seek a court-martial,” it adds. “Two of the SEALs and their lieutenant have since been promoted, even though their commander in Afghanistan recommended that they be forced out of the elite SEAL teams.”


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