U.S. Officer Court-Martialed in Iraqi General's Death
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. A U.S. Army officer is being court martialed at Fort Carson, Colorado for allegedly killing an Iraqi general during an interrogation in 2003. The General, Abed Mowhoush, was being held as a suspected insurgent. The defendant, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, has pleaded not guilty. NPR's John McChesney reports.
JOHN MCCHESNEY reporting:
General Mowhoush was a free man when he walked into an American base in Western Iraq on November 10 to inquire about his captured sons. Two weeks later, he died in a detainee holding facility dubbed, the "Blacksmith Hotel." During that time, he was questioned often. The two days before he died, the interrogation turned ugly. According to testimony given last year, Mowhoush was beaten on that day with a club, a rubber hose, and fists by Iraqi civilians who were reportedly working with the CIA.
Government photographs who Mowhoush's corpse covered with huge bruises. The beating was so severe that he had to be carried away by five soldiers. But he was still alive. The government says Chief Warrant Officer Welshofer stood by and watched that beating without intervening.
The government says the next day Welshofer took Mowhoush to the roof of the interrogation center. Another interrogator, Chief Warrant Officer Jefferson Williams, testified about what happened on that rooftop. Williams testified under immunity, having cut a deal with the government to drop murder charges against him. Williams said Mowhoush had trouble negotiating the stairs and was breathing heavily. He was laid on his back with his hands tied in front of him, and Williams used a stick to stretch his arms upward, while he kept a foot on the Iraqi's chest. Meanwhile, Williams testified, Welshofer was pouring water in the general's face and asking him questions.
The next day, Mowhoush was taken into interrogation room six. Williams said when he came into the room, Mowhoush was standing, stuffed head first into sleeping bag, and he helped lower him to the floor. Williams said Welshofer straddled the detainee, leaned into him, asking him questions. Welshofer kept putting his hand over the Iraqi's face. Mowhoush became unresponsive. Williams said the room was tense, and Welshofer stood up, making a remark that he was relieved the Iraqi wasn't dead. Then, according to Williams, Welshofer went back to work. But a short time later, the detainee was dead. Attempts to review him failed.
Defense attorney Frank Spinner said that Welshofer's company commander had approved the sleeping bag technique, which had been used numerous times. Spinner pointed out that a memo had come down from up the chain of command saying, the gloves are off. And company commander Major Jessica Voss testified under a grant of immunity that she had approved the technique Welshofer was using. She added that Welshofer had assured her that detainees would be able to breathe. Spinner also said that he would call a forensic pathologist, who would say that Mowhoush died from a long term heart disease, not suffocation.
As details about Mowhoush's beating by Iraqi nationals were being revealed in testimony by an army investigator, the judge closed the court room, saying the testimony was classified, although it's been widely reported that these Iraqis worked with the CIA. The judge has warned that as the court martial proceeds, more closed sessions are likely.
John McChesney, NPR News, Colorado Springs.