U.S. Soldier Tried for Killing of Iraqi General

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Another American soldier is standing trial for prisoner abuses — this time, for having allegedly killed an Iraqi general during a 2003 interrogation. Alex Chadwick talks with John McChesney, who's covering the court martial of Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer in Fort Carson, Colo. He faces murder and dereliction of duty charges for the suffocation death of Iraqi Major Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. In Fort Carson, Colorado an American soldier is on trial for killing an Iraqi general during an interrogation that prosecutors say went too far. This incident happened at a U.S. military base in Iraq in November 2003.

NPR's John McChesney joins us now from Fort Carson where he's covering the court martial. John welcome back to Day to Day. Who's the soldier? What's he charged with?

Mr. JOHN MCCHESNEY, reporting:

Well, Alex, it's Army Chief Warrant Officer, Lewis Welshofer and he's charged with murdering an Iraqi General, Abed Mowhoush, back in November of 2003. He's accused of stuffing the general into a sleeping bag head first, wrapping the sleeping bag with electrical cord, sitting on the general, and putting his hand over his mouth periodically. And the general died, according to the autopsy, of asphyxia.

CHADWICK: Is there a question of fact, John? Is the Chief Warrant Officer denying that he did indeed stuff the general in the sleeping bag or is it just a question of whether or not that's what killed him?

MCCHESNEY: Mr. Welshofer took the stand yesterday and he said that his technique, he thinks, was an interpretation of a stress position, which was authorized by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez who was in charge of the Iraqi forces at this time. You have to understand that Mowhoush was severely beaten by Iraqi nationals a couple of days before he was put in this sleeping bag and put through this technique. He had five broken ribs. He was incredibly badly bruised, because we saw photographs of him here in the courtroom. Welshofer claims he didn't know that, didn't know he had broken ribs and so couldn't be responsible for that. But other witnesses who appeared and talked about Welshofer said that the general could barely walk when he came to the interrogation room that day.

CHADWICK: So the defense, basically, is this guy died of a heart attack during a fairly severe interrogation, but the interrogation didn't actually cause his death.

MCCHESNEY: Well, the defense says he died of a heart attack. That it was accidental. He had an enlarged heart, it was a natural condition, and when he was put in the sleeping bag the stress caused him to have a heart attack. So it was accidental. The prosecution and the man who wrote the autopsy report said he died of suffocation, that he died of asphyxia.

CHADWICK: So where does the trial go from here, John?

MCCHESNEY: Well, the prosecution has rested. The defense will present more witnesses today. If they get through those witnesses, the panel will go out to determine guilt and if they find him guilty he could be in prison for life.

CHADWICK: NPR's John McChesney reporting from Fort Carson, Colorado at the trial of Army Chief Warrant Officer, Lewis Welshofer, who's accused of murdering an Iraqi general during an interrogation in Iraq. John, thank you.

MCCHESNEY: Thank you, Alex.

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