FORT CARSON, Colo. – An Army interrogator committed negligent homicide when he put a sleeping bag over an Iraqi general's head and sat on his chest as the man suffocated, a military jury found.
Attorneys for Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. said he believed the general had information that would "break the back of the whole insurgency" at a time when soldiers were being killed in an increasingly lethal and bold resistance.
But prosecutor Maj. Tiernan Dolan maintained that Welshofer tortured Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush at a detention camp in 2003, treating him "worse than you would treat a dog."
After six hours of deliberations, the panel of six Army officers spared Welshofer on the more serious charge of murder — which carries a potential life sentence — instead convicting him late Saturday of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty. He was acquitted of assault.
Welshofer stood silently and showed no reaction when the verdict was announced. He could be dishonorably discharged and sentenced to a maximum three years and three months in prison at a Monday hearing.
Defense attorney Frank Spinner said he would decide after sentencing whether to appeal.
"The verdict recognizes the context in which these events took place," he said. "It was a very difficult time in Iraq. There was confusion, and they were not getting clear guidance from headquarters."
Welshofer and prosecutors left without commenting.
During the trial, prosecutors described a rogue interrogator who became frustrated with Mowhoush's refusal to answer questions and escalated his techniques from simple interviews to beatings to simulating drowning, and finally, to death.
Welshofer used his sleeping bag technique in the presence of lower ranking soldiers, but never in the presence of officers with the authority to stop him, Dolan said.
The treatment of the Iraqi general "could fairly be described as torture," Dolan said.
In an e-mail to a commander, Dolan said, Welshofer wrote that restrictions on interrogation techniques were impeding the Army's ability to gather intelligence. Welshofer wrote that authorized techniques came from Cold War-era doctrine that did not apply in Iraq, Dolan said.
"Our enemy understands force, not psychological mind games," Dolan quoted from Welshofer's message. Dolan said an officer responded by telling Welshofer to "take a deep breath and remember who we are."
The defense had argued a heart condition caused Mowhoush's death, and that Welshofer's commanders had approved the interrogation technique.
"What he was doing he was doing in the open, and he was doing it because he believed the information in fact would save lives," Spinner said.
He asked jurors to consider deadly conditions in Iraq at the time of the interrogation. Welshofer had to make some decisions on his own because guidance was lacking and other techniques weren't working, Spinner said.
Officials believed Mowhoush had information that would "break the back of the whole insurgency," said defense attorney Capt. Ryan Rosauer. They also thought Mowhoush helping to bring foreign fighters into Iraq from across the Syrian border, he said.
Several prosecution witnesses, including one whose identity is classified and who testified in a closed session, had been granted immunity in exchange for their cooperation, Spinner noted. Two soldiers who were initially charged with murder in the case also were given immunity.