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Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Thursday, 22 April 2010 11:26 UK

US Navy Seal cleared over attack on 'Blackwater killer'

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A US military jury has cleared a US Navy Seal of helping to cover up an attack on an Iraqi suspected of killing four Blackwater guards in 2004.

Petty Officer Julio Huertas, 28, was found not guilty of dereliction of duty and attempting to influence the testimony of another service member.

PO Huertas is the first of three sailors to face a court martial over the alleged abuse of Ahmed Hashim Abed.

The navy's special forces are widely supported in the US.

US Sailor Petty Officer 3rd class Kevin Demartino told the court on Wednesday he saw Navy Seal PO Matthew McCabe punch Mr Abed last September.

Mr Demartino said PO Huertas and a third officer, PO Jonathan Keefe, were in the room at the time of the assault, and that PO Huertas later tried to get him to help them cover up the incident.

However, in the closing arguments, the lawyer for Mr Huertas highlighted inconsistencies between Mr Demartino's testimony and that of nearly all other Navy witnesses.

Burned bodies

A six-man jury returned their not guilty verdict after two hours of deliberations.

PO Huertas and PO Keefe are being tried in Iraq, as Mr Abed cannot leave the country. PO McCabe will go on trial in May.

Mr Abed was arrested in September of last year and is accused of masterminding the killing of four Blackwater private security guards in Falluja.

Their bodies were dragged through the streets, burned and hung up on a bridge where they were photographed by the news media.

The three are reported to have opted for a military hearing instead of an official reprimand in an attempt to clear their names.

The US security firm Blackwater is at the centre of controversy surrounding the "outsourcing" of war, where private contractors are taking on tasks usually carried out by government soldiers.



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