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At the Al Qaim detention facility northwest of Baghdad, Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush is interrogated by two officers of the 66th Military Intelligence Company. They force him head-first into a sleeping bag and question him as they roll him back and forth. One of the soldiers, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, sits on the Iraqi general’s chest and covers his mouth. (Human Rights Watch 6/2004) The prisoner dies of asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression. (Moffeit 5/18/2004) Later in the day, US military officials issue a statement saying that a prisoner has died of natural causes during questioning. “Mowhoush said he didn’t feel well and subsequently lost consciousness,” the statement reads. “The soldier questioning him found no pulse, then conducted CPR and called for medical authorities. According to the on-site surgeon, it appeared Mowhouse died of natural causes.” (Moffeit 5/18/2004; Jehl and Schmitt 5/22/2004) But the autopsy report will say there is “evidence of blunt force trauma to the chest and legs.” (Human Rights Watch 6/2004) The incident is investigated and a report is issued in early 2004 (see Late January 2004).
Four US soldiers are charged with murdering an Iraqi major general in their custody. Almost a year ago, Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush died during an interrogation at a base near Qaim, in western Iraq. Mowhoush was smothered to death (see November 26, 2003). The four soldiers are Chief Warrant Officers Jefferson L. Williams and Lewis E. Welshofer, Jr., Sergeant First Class William J. Sommer, and Specialist Jerry L. Loper. All are charged with murder and dereliction of duty. Williams, Welshofer, and Sommer were members of the 66th Military Company, a unit of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Loper was a member of the regiment’s Support Squadron, and assigned to helicopter maintenance. Only Welshofer has training in interrogation practices. Mowhoush, allegedly a high-ranking member of the anti-American insurgency, surrendered to US forces two weeks before his death. The Pentagon initially reported his death as due to “natural causes,” but now admits Mowhoush was tortured to death. “General Mowhoush was allegedly placed in a sleeping bag and then bound to prevent his movement,” a Pentagon report says. “One of the warrant officers [Welshofer] reportedly sat on his chest and continued the interrogation. General Mowhoush was then rolled over, and the warrant officer sat on his back.” Mowhoush died in that position. A medical examination proved that he had died of asphyxiation. Other documents later show that Mowhoush had a bag pulled over his head, the bag was wrapped tightly with electrical cords, and he was beaten and kicked by a crowd of interrogators and officials (see January 19, 2006). Regiment commander Colonel David Teeples says of the charges, “There is no evidence, there is no proof.” Much of the evidence presented in the case is classified and may not ever be made public. “If there are witnesses or documents that would disclose classified information, the trial is closed for those portions,” says retired Air Force Colonel Skip Morgan, a former military judge. (Roeder 10/5/2004) The murder charge against Sommer will later be dropped. Williams and Loper will make plea agreements in return for their testimony against Welshofer. (Foster 1/17/2006) Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
A secret witness in the court-martial of a US soldier charged with murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004) says that the soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, disregarded interrogation rules so casually that he wrote a memo warning his CIA superiors. The witness testifies in open court, but is shielded behind a curtain to protect his identity. (Defense lawyers accidentally exposed the witness’s ties to the CIA during previous questioning.) The testimony is conducted in public after much legal wrangling, with lawyers from the Colorado Springs Gazette and other media outlets insisting that the witness’s testimony be conducted in open court. The witness says Welshofer, accused of smothering the prisoner, did not seem to care. “He said he was pretty sure they were breaking those rules every day.” Earlier witnesses have testified that the techniques used by Welshofer—which included covering the prisoner’s head with a bag, wrapping electrical cord around the bag, sitting on the man’s chest, and covering his mouth—were forbidden by order of CENTCOM commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. Another witness, Chief Warrant Officer Todd Sonnek, a Green Beret assigned to interrogations at the makeshift prison near the Syrian border, says that two days before Mowhoush’s death, he witnessed Welshofer bringing CIA and Iraqi paramilitary fighters in to witness his interrogation of the prisoner, which Welshofer called an implementation of the accepted method called “fear-up,” in which an interrogator attempts to terrify a prisoner into divulging information. Welshofer, along with the CIA officials and Iraqi fighters, questioned Mowhoush, and interrupted the questions with insults and slaps. Instead of cowering in fear, Mowhoush became enraged and broke free from his plastic handcuffs. Sonnek says he wrestled Mowhoush to the ground, and everyone in the room joined in beating and kicking Mowhoush. Sonnek testifies that Mowhoush was able to walk unaided back to his cell; other witnesses have said that it took five soldiers to carry him back to it. (Foster 1/17/2006; Roeder 1/19/2006; Foster 1/24/2006) Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, testifying in his own defense on charges of murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004), says that he was unsure of what interrogation techniques were acceptable and what were not. He also says that he was under orders to treat prisoners very harshly. He testifies: “Basically [an August 30, 2003 memo] said that as far as they [senior commanders] knew there were no ROE [Rules of Engagement] for interrogations. They were still struggling with the definition for a detainee. It also said that commanders were tired of us taking casualties and they [told interrogators they] wanted the gloves to come off.… Other than a memo saying that they were to be considered ‘unprivileged combatants’ we received no guidance from them [on the status of detainees].” (Human Rights First 2/2006) Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer is found guilty of causing the death of an Iraqi prisoner, Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush (see November 26, 2003). Welshofer, who was originally charged with murder (see October 5, 2004), is not found guilty of murder, but of far lesser charges of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty. The court-martial board sentences Welshofer, who sat on Mowhoush’s chest and smothered him to death, to a reprimand, a fine of $6,000, and 60 days’ restriction. He is not sentenced to jail; neither is he discharged from the Army or even reduced in rank. Soldiers in the courtroom audience applaud the sentence. Welshofer’s attorney, Frank Spinner, says after the sentence, “The court understood our argument that this was a very difficult environment in which the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was operating in November 2003.” Army prosecutor Captain Elana Matt had argued for at least two years’ imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge: “Chief Welshofer should have known better, with 19 years in the Army. You heard some bad things about General Mowhoush, but standards don’t apply just to good victims. They apply to everyone. The reputation of the Army has been dishonored at home and abroad.… You may be tempted to believe that this is the kind of guy the Army needs because he gets the job done. Don’t do it, because that would reduce us to the level of our enemies.” But the court was apparently swayed by Welshofer’s denials that he had done anything that could have led to Mowhoush’s death, and by the argument of Spinner and Welshofer’s military lawyer, Captain Ryan Rosauer, who said that Welshofer was confused by hazy interrogation rules (see January 19, 2006), and was merely doing his duty and trying to save lives. For his part, Welshofer begged the panel to allow him to stay out of jail and in the Army. He said that he had “tried to be a loyal soldier, putting the needs of this institution before my own.” (Foster 1/24/2006; Roeder 1/24/2006) Brigadier General David Irvine, a retired intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years, and human rights activist David Danzig, will call Welshofer’s sentence a “slap on the wrist,” and write that the verdict “spared the defendant, indicted the prosecutor, and found the law irrelevant” (see January 27, 2006). (Irvine and Danzig 1/27/2006)
Brigadier General David Irvine, a retired intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years, and human rights activist David Danzig write an angry response to the recent court-martial of Army interrogator Lewis Welshofer. Welshofer was found guilty of negligent homicide in causing the death of an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004), but was given what Irvine and Danzig consider an absurdly light sentence: a reprimand, a small fine, two months’ restriction, and no jail time (see January 24, 2006). Irvine and Danzig believe that the verdict points to a larger problem: “The Welshofer case puts a fine point on a question that has plagued us since Abu Ghraib: Is the Army institutionally capable of dealing with the debacle of torture? The Army and the nation cannot afford to have soldiers draw the obvious lesson from the case’s nonsensical outcome: that in combat, the ends justify the means, and the Geneva Conventions and the McCain anti-torture amendment are subject to change depending on the circumstances or executive whim. Since the Army seems to have no inclination to enforce the principles of command discipline and accountability among the senior ranks, the corrosive effects of US torture in Iraq and elsewhere will continue to haunt any efforts to regain lost stature and credibility in the world.” (Irvine and Danzig 1/27/2006)
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