On May 31, 2012, three Navy SEALs along with an Afghan Local Police unit reportedly beat more than half a dozen Afghan detainees during an interrogation, The New York Times reports.
The beatings were serious enough that one local died from his injuries later in the day, according to the investigative report.
After the beating, despite sworn testimony from four US soldiers on the scene and Afghan witnesses, the case was cleared in a closed court that is routinely used for minor disciplinary infractions.
Since the case, the Navy SEALs involved in the incident have faced no repercussions, and "two of the SEALs and their lieutenant have since been promoted," The Times notes.
The Navy acknowledges that the beatings took place but says they were carried out solely by Afghan forces.
Following an explosion at a manned checkpoint operated by the police, the Afghan Local Police rounded up numerous locals, including three junk collectors who were new to the town.
The treatment of these three men by the police, and by the SEALs, was particularly harsh.
After arresting the three, the police marched the trio over a kilometer to the US military outpost. Along the way "they were beating us with stones and rifles," Assadullah, one of the three men, told The Times.
Once at the base, the men were handcuffed with their arms behind their backs and made to sit. According to the sworn testimony of the US soldiers present, they stood on the roofs of the buildings in the outpost to provide security during the interrogation. From their different vantage points, they saw differing elements of the interrogation.
"The soldiers told investigators that they had seen the three enlisted SEALs kick prisoners and fire handguns next to their heads; at one point, two of them forced a detainee's legs apart so they could drop a large rock on his crotch," The Times notes.
"Three of the soldiers said that the SEALs had also dropped stones on other prisoners. One soldier recalled seeing a Team 2 member standing on a detainee's head 'maybe eight to 10 times.'"
The interrogation lasted into the afternoon, after which the Navy SEALs allowed the detainees to leave. Within hours, one of the detainees died from the injuries he sustained.
After the beatings, Cmdr. Mike Hayes, the officer in charge of the SEAL team, opened an investigation on the four Navy SEALs involved following a report of the situation from one of the US soldiers present.
Despite the allegations, the case was moved to be settled through a disciplinary hearing that was generally used for minor infractions. The hearing was behind closed doors, and the Navy lawyer involved justified it as saying that a full court-martial case was impossible because of the lack of forensic evidence and Afghan witnesses.
Ultimately, the Navy SEALs were given only "letters of instruction," The Times reports, that suggested "they could improve their 'leadership and decision making.'" The SEALs were also reassigned to different teams.
Still, the ruling and the closed-doors investigation into the beatings have turned heads, and multiple lawyers within the military have called for the case to be reopened.
"It's unfathomable," former judge advocate general of the Navy, Donald J. Guter, told The Times. "It really does look like this was intended just to bury this."