BAGHDAD (AP) - A U.S. Navy SEAL was cleared Thursday of charges he covered up the alleged beating of an Iraqi prisoner suspected of masterminding the grisly 2004 killings of four American security contractors.
A six-man Navy jury found Petty Officer 1st Class Julio Huertas not guilty of dereliction of duty and attempting to influence the testimony of another service member. The jury heard too many differences between the testimony of a sailor who claimed he witnessed the Sept. 1 assault at a U.S. base outside Fallujah, Iraq, and statements from a half-dozen others who denied his account.
Smiling and composed as he left the courthouse at the U.S. military's Camp Victory on Baghdad's western outskirts, Huertas said he felt vindicated.
"It's a big weight off my shoulders," said Huertas, 29, of Blue Island, Illinois. "Compared to all the physical activity we go through, this has been mentally more challenging."
Huertas said he would rejoin the SEALs, the Navy's elite special forces, as soon as possible. His was the first trial of three SEALs accused in the assault of Ahmed Hashim Abed and its alleged cover up.