SAN DIEGO (AP) — The U.S. Navy on Tuesday dropped sexual assault charges against an enlisted SEAL in a case involving a female sailor at a Fourth of July party in Iraq that had prompted the rare withdrawal of the special operations unit from the Middle East in 2019.
Under an agreement accepted by the military court at Navy Base San Diego, Adel A. Enayat pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault consummated by battery for biting the sailor’s face and grabbing her neck during what his lawyer described as rough, consensual sex. He will immediately serve up to 90 days in the brig.
At the special court martial, the judge also reduced his rank of special warfare operator first class by five levels, drastically cutting his pay and benefits, after the masked Enayat wearing his Navy dress uniform said without emotion that he was guilty.
He told the judge he did not have a “solid memory” of what happened in his room at the Al Assad Air Base in Iraq because of the “copious amounts of alcohol I’d consumed.”
Still, he said after reviewing the evidence he agreed that he grabbed the sailor by the neck and bit her on her face, ignoring her pleas for him to stop. He agreed with the facts read by the judge that he “applied pressure to her neck that caused her to have difficulty breathing.”
When asked by the judge why he did not stop when she asked him, Enayat said it was not an excuse for the crime but he was intoxicated.
Per the agreement, Navy prosecutors stipulated that there was no sexual assault. Enayat was originally charged in December 2019 with sexual assault, aggravated assault via strangulation and assault by battery for allegedly biting the victim on the face, according to his charge sheet.
It was an abrupt end to a case that had prompted the entire Foxtrot platoon of SEAL Team 7, known as Trident 1726, to be sent home early to San Diego. The withdrawal marked an extremely rare move that cut short the mission of a unit that was in Iraq to combat remnants of the Islamic State.
The Navy fired three SEAL leaders in the aftermath of the sexual assault allegation.
Enayat plans to leave the Navy with a general discharge under honorable conditions per the plea agreement. That discharge also means he will lose some of his veteran’s benefits.
“It’s hard to recover from this in your career,” Enayat’s lawyer Jeremiah Sullivan said. “He’s going to move on with his life. But many people lost their jobs and careers over a sexual assault that never occurred.”
Colleen Grace, a former U.S. Navy intelligence specialist who had planned to testify at the trial, told The Associated Press in August that when she saw her friend after the barbecue that night, she had a giant black bruise that marred her jawline and several other marks that lined her neck.
She said her friend told her that the sex started out as consensual in the SEAL’s room, but then he started biting and choking her so hard she couldn’t breathe and she thought she was going to die. Grace said her friend flew to Baghdad in the early morning hours after the barbecue to be examined at a military hospital and report being sexually assaulted.
Grace declined to comment about the outcome of the case. Her friend submitted a statement to the court that was not made public and her lawyer declined a request to release it to the media.
The two friends were among a dozen female service members attached to the SEAL platoon during a six-month deployment to Iraq that began in March 2019.
Sexual assault is a highly unreported crime in the military due to a fear that doing so could hurt a victim’s career. The Department of Defense has been actively working to encourage victims to come forward in recent years. Reports of sexual assault have steadily increased since 2006.
The allegation from the Fourth of July barbecue led to a second ethics review of America’s commando forces in a year. The review by the Special Operations Command found a problematic culture that overemphasized combat and put troops at times far beyond supervision, opening the door to inappropriate behavior.
The barbecue came only two days after the acquittal of Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, who was accused by his platoon members of killing a captive ISIS fighter and shooting civilians during a deployment to Iraq in 2017. Gallagher was also a member of SEAL Team 7 in Iraq but with a different platoon and under different leadership.
Gallagher — who was convicted of a single charge for posing with the dead teen militant’s body for a picture — got support from then-President Donald Trump, who prevented the military from taking disciplinary action against the ex-SEAL, pitting the commander-in-chief against the Navy’s top brass.
This story has been corrected to say Enayat was accused of sexual assault, not rape.