Sentence in Death Of Iraqi Angers Son

Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. was convicted of negligent homicide.
Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. was convicted of negligent homicide. (By Mark Reis -- Associated Press)
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mohammed Mowhoush, the son of an Iraqi general who died in U.S. custody in late 2003, assailed the U.S. military yesterday for imposing a reprimand instead of prison time for an Army interrogator convicted in connection with his father's death, saying the United States has not properly administered justice.

Speaking by telephone from Iraq, Mowhoush, 18, decried the military jury's sentencing this week of Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. He emotionally recounted his own arrest and seeing his father shortly before he died in an interrogation room in northern Iraq.

A military jury convicted Welshofer of negligent homicide late Saturday, after hearing evidence that he was using an aggressive interrogation technique on Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush when the general stopped breathing.

"His punishment is not justice," Mohammed Mowhoush said in English, speaking to reporters on a conference call. "He must be punished more harder. At least 40 years."

Welshofer apologized at a sentencing hearing Monday, saying he hoped his actions had not tarnished the soldiers in Iraq. His attorney argued that Welshofer was using an approved interrogation tactic and worked with only murky guidance and policies from officials in Baghdad. His sentence was much lighter than those given to some soldiers convicted of abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Abed Mowhoush was taken into custody in November 2003 and was subjected to harsh interrogations that included beatings and unusual techniques. He died while stuffed into a sleeping bag, wrapped in a cord, and with Welshofer straddling his chest. U.S. officials believed he was a major figure in the insurgency around Qaim, Iraq, but had a hard time getting him to talk.

Mohammed Mowhoush yesterday recalled his own arrest on Oct. 27, 2003, when he and his three brothers were taken from their Qaim home as U.S. forces searched for his father. Mohammed, then 15, said U.S. troops arrived in the early morning darkness with helicopters and armored vehicles, and demanded to see his father.

"They said if my father did not come and give up, they will send us to Guantanamo," Mowhoush said, adding that he and his family had been observing Ramadan, but that his father was not home at the time. "That celebration turned into a real tragedy for us. They said if my father does not come, you will never see your family back."

Arresting someone to entice relatives to turn themselves in is considered by human rights organizations to be a form of hostage-taking. It is considered illegal in wartime but military investigative documents reveal it has occurred in Iraq.

Mowhoush said he and his brothers were taken into custody and interrogated for days, with U.S. officials accusing them of carrying out roles in the insurgency. He said he was told they believed he was a sniper, though he said he knew nothing about the war. He and his brothers were not charged with crimes.

Mowhoush said U.S. troops took his clothes off, poured cold water on him, beat him, and made him get into uncomfortable and painful "stress positions," as they are known in the military.

His father later surrendered in an attempt to free his sons, according to classified documents. The military began to use the sons against the general, Mohammed Mowhoush said. After about 28 days in prison, the younger Mowhoush said, the Army brought the general to an old train depot outside of Qaim -- a temporary detention facility nicknamed "Blacksmith Hotel" -- to pressure him to talk.

"He was tired and I saw wounds on his body, and he was tired because they hit him so much, they made a lot of pain on him and he couldn't even talk to me," Mowhoush said, describing how he was briefly reunited with his father.

It was about that time that Abed Mowhoush had been beaten by Iraqi paramilitaries code-named "Scorpions," who were working with the CIA, according to classified documents. Mohammed Mowhoush said he saw some masked Iraqis at the prison, and said at one point they escorted him into a room near where his father was being interrogated. He said they yelled at his father and told him that if he did not tell the truth, they would execute his son.

"We expected that my father would die because of the treatment," Mowhoush said. "We were young boys -- we can handle anything. But my father was an old man -- he can't handle the treatment."

Human Rights First, an advocacy organization based in New York, organized the conference call with several reporters. David Danzig, director of the group's "End Torture Now" campaign, said he is concerned about Welshofer's sentence and about the treatment of Mowhoush's sons. "It is yet another disturbing set of evidence that suggests all kinds of illegal activity was taking place," Danzig said.

Mohammed Mowhoush said he and his brothers want to sue Welshofer for his role in their father's death. Mowhoush said he has nothing against the American people but harbors ill feelings for the U.S. Army. "We want justice to be done," he said.

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