Published on Tuesday, January 24, 2006 by Agence France Presse
No Jail Time for US Soldier Over Iraqi Prisoner Death
A US military interrogator convicted of killing an Iraqi general by stuffing his head into a sleeping bag was sentenced to a reprimand and fine but escaped jail time.
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, the highest-ranking officer charged in connection with prisoner abuse the US led war in Iraq, had faced up to three years in military prison following his conviction Saturday for negligent manslaughter.
But instead, a six-member court-martial jury at Fort Carson, in the western state of Colorado, ordered that he get a reprimand, give up 6,000 dollars in pay and be confined to his base and place of worship for 60 days.
The 43-year-old, who is married and has three children, originally faced a more serious charge of murder which could have seen him jailed for life.
Before being sentenced, Welshofer, fighting back tears, apologized for the death of Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush before being sentenced and pleaded with the jury not to send him to jail.
"I deeply apologize if my actions tarnished the soldiers serving in Iraq," he said.
Welshofer, who argued that his actions were not extreme and that interrogation rules were unclear, later thanked those colleagues who supported him.
"The military is a family when you get right down to it," Welshofer told Denver television's 9News. "I can't thank them enough for their support."
The officer was accused of torturing Mowhoush, covering his head with a sleeping bag, binding him with electric cord and sitting on his chest until he died.
The general died of suffocation at a detention center in Al Anbar province, near the Syrian border in November 2003.
The US military believed Mowhoush was a former close advisor of Saddam Hussein and a leader of the rising Iraqi insurgency at the time.
During a five-day trial last week, prosecutors displayed gruesome pictures of Mowhoush's body, arguing that Welshofer knowingly ignored US military interrogation protocol that did not sanction the sleeping bag technique.
They claimed that Welshofer ignored warnings and rebukes over his methods, which they called "torture", and did not fully inform his superiors of his techniques.
However, Welshofer's lawyers cited evidence in emails and other communications that interrogators had been urged to "take the gloves off" in their handling of prisoners, authorizing his techniques.
Mowhoush was transferred into Welshofer's hands already badly beaten and with broken ribs, allegedly after brutal treatment by CIA officials and contractors, referred to in the trial as "civilian interrogators," they claimed.
Welshofer also asserted that his only guidance was an email memo allowing for "stress positions" and he did not see two later memos giving more clarification.
He claimed he only straddled the sleeping bag and covered Mowhoush's mouth to keep him from talking, not to prevent him from breathing.
The same panel that sentenced him found him guilty Saturday of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty, but acquitted him of murder and assault.
Prosecutors had asked for the panel to sentence Welshofer to two years in jail and slap him with a dishonorable discharge, but the final sentence proved to be much lighter.
The trial raised questions about whether the US military and CIA had officially sanctioned illegal torture in Iraqi detention facilities, under the guidance of the top general in Iraq at the time, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez.
According to New York-based Human Rights First, which monitors US detainee issues, over 100 detainees have died in US hands since the launch of the US war on terror in 2001, and 27 of them have been identified by the army as suspected or confirmed homicides.
Copyright © 2006 AFP