A navy statement on Friday said the four sailors face US military criminal charges including assault, aggravated assault, maltreatment of detainees, failure to report maltreatment of detainees and making false official statements to investigators.

The navy did not identify the sailors, who are members of the elite Navy SEAL (Sea-Air-Land ) unit.

They were charged on Thursday in connection with an investigation into prisoner abuse from October 2003 to April 2004.

Prisoner death

A navy official said some of the charges were connected to the death of an Iraqi captured by SEALs last November.

This marked the first time that criminal charges have been brought against navy personnel in the prisoner abuse scandal that erupted when pictures of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison surfaced in April.

Seven army reservists have been charged and military investigators have recommended charges against dozens of others in the army.

"The Navy takes all allegations of abuse seriously and will conduct appropriate review of all available evidence involved in this case," the navy statement said.