Army Interrogator Reprimanded in Iraqi's Death
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
A military jury in Colorado issued a reprimand last night to an Army interrogator who was convicted of negligent homicide for using an aggressive technique on an Iraqi general who died during questioning. Jurors decided not to impose any prison sentence for what originally was charged as a murder.
The lenient sentence for Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr., 43, implies that jurors thought the interrogator should not face serious punishment in connection with the death of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, a high-ranking Saddam Hussein loyalist who was believed to have engineered insurgent attacks in northern Iraq along the Syrian border. After Mowhoush's capture in November 2003, Welshofer shoved him into a sleeping bag, wrapped him in a cord and straddled him in a last-ditch effort to get
him to talk. The general stopped breathing during the session.
Welshofer's attorney argued during a week-long court-martial that the interrogator was operating with confusing guidance from officials in Baghdad -- who desperately wanted to gather intelligence about the insurgency -- and that he had sought approval for the "claustrophobic" technique from superiors, who knew he was using it.
Originally, Welshofer and three other soldiers were charged with murder in Mowhoush's death, and Welshofer faced the possibility of life in prison. Murder charges were dropped against the other soldiers, and Welshofer was convicted of the lesser offense of negligent homicide, which could have carried a three-year sentence, and negligent dereliction of duty. Jurors opted for no prison time and imposed a $6,000 fine and restricted him to work, his place of worship and barracks for 60 days, the Associated Press reported.
The decision provides a stark contrast to punishments meted out to some of the military police soldiers who worked at the Abu Ghraib prison and were convicted of abusing detainees, none of whom died in custody. For example, former corporal Charles A. Graner Jr. was sentenced to 10 years in prison for abuse; former staff sergeant Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II was sentenced to 8 1/2 years; and former private first class Lynndie R. England, who posed with naked detainees in notorious photographs, received three years.
Welshofer was convicted Saturday after a trial that highlighted the abusive treatment of Mowhoush, who was considered a significant catch for U.S. troops. Welshofer testified he used the sleeping-bag technique after officials in Baghdad told interrogators that the U.S. military was going to get tough on detainees. The soldier's supervising officer in Iraq approved the use of the sleeping bag, according to court testimony.
In the days before his death, Mowhoush was severely beaten by a group of Iraqi paramilitaries who were working with the CIA at the military base near Qaim, nicknamed "Blacksmith Hotel."
Welshofer asked jurors not to separate him from his family by sending him to prison. "I deeply apologize if my actions tarnished the soldiers serving in Iraq," the AP quoted Welshofer as saying at yesterday's hearing.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.