CIA Operative Testifies He Saw SEAL Beating Iraqi Prisoner

By Tony Perry

Los Angeles Times

May 25, 2005

SAN DIEGO — Testifying behind a curtain to protect his identity, a CIA operative told a court-martial Tuesday that he saw a Navy SEAL "pummeling" a defenseless prisoner in Iraq.

The operative said he saw the SEAL on the back of a prisoner, hitting him. He reported the October 2003 incident to the CIA's senior officer on the scene, who warned a Navy commander that such conduct was unacceptable, the operative said.

Tuesday was the second day of the trial of Lt. Andrew K. Ledford, who is accused of allowing his SEALs to brutalize prisoners, including one who later died.

The CIA operative testified he and his superiors would never tolerate abuse of prisoners.

His testimony differed markedly from that of a former SEAL, an enlisted man.

Earlier Tuesday, former Petty Officer Dan Cerrillo testified under immunity that he was the SEAL beating the prisoner and pushing his face into the sand.

But Cerrillo, who served under Ledford in Foxtrot Platoon, said he was acting on the orders of "those people we're not supposed to talk about" — one of the euphemisms witnesses and attorneys use to avoid mentioning the CIA. (Other phrases include "the agency," "another governmental agency" and "security personnel.")

"When [the prisoner] wouldn't answer, I would make him talk," Cerrillo told jurors in the case against Ledford.

"I was told in the middle [of the incident] by the security personnel not to hit [the prisoner] in the face because it would make it hard for him to turn them in," said Cerrillo, who was later wounded in Iraq and left the Navy a few weeks ago.

The public was banned from the courtroom while the CIA operative testified about secret or classified material. During the rest of his testimony, the public was kept on the other side of the curtain shielding the operative.

In the unclassified part of the CIA operative's testimony, none of the six officers acting as jurors asked any questions — as is their right — that would reconcile his version of events with Cerrillo's. A CIA attorney was present for the entire testimony.

The beating occurred in late October 2003 as SEALs were teamed with CIA operatives to arrest "high-value" Iraqis suspected of being terrorists.

Two weeks later, the SEALs arrested Manadel Jamadi, suspected of being part of the attack on the Red Cross building in Baghdad that killed 12 people.

Jamadi, who was taken to Abu Ghraib prison, died after being interrogated by the CIA. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched a homicide inquiry. No charges were brought over Jamadi's death, but 10 SEALs were accused of brutalizing him and other prisoners.

No CIA operatives or employees have been charged, which has embittered some Navy personnel.

Asked about his attitude on the case against Ledford, Cerrillo said: "I'm not very happy about it, because I don't think the whole thing is right."

Ledford is accused of dereliction of duty, filing false reports, conduct unbecoming an officer, and assault.

Defense attorney Frank Spinner told jurors that prosecutors would not present a single witness to prove that Ledford saw any brutality or knew that SEALs under his command were abusing prisoners.

Lt. Jonathan Freimann, one of the prosecutors, said in his opening statement that Ledford was guilty of a "failure of leadership." Two members of Ledford's 16-man platoon testified Tuesday that they kicked and hit prisoners, including Jamadi.

Freimann said the fact that Jamadi was a suspected terrorist did not justify his treatment. "No one in this courtroom would like to shed a tear for him, but in this country we hold ourselves to a higher standard," he said.

If convicted on all charges, Ledford, 32, a Naval Academy graduate and former Marine officer, could be sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The court-martial continues today at San Diego Naval Base.