FORT CARSON, Colo. – A military jury on Monday ordered a reprimand but no jail time for an Army interrogator convicted of killing an Iraqi general by stuffing him headfirst into a sleeping bag and sitting on his chest.
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. also was ordered to forfeit $6,000 salary and was largely restricted to his barracks and workplace for 60 days.
Welshofer, 43, had originally been charged with murder and faced up to life in prison. But on Saturday he was convicted instead of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty.
On the lesser charges, he had faced a maximum of three years and three months in prison, a dishonorable discharge, loss of his pension and other penalties.
After hearing the sentence reached by the jury of six Army officers, Welshofer hugged his wife. Soldiers in the gallery — many of whom had worked with Welshofer and who had testified as character witnesses — broke into applause.
The sentence now goes to the commanding general, Maj. Gen. Robert W. Mixon. He cannot order a harsher sentence, but could lighten it or set the whole verdict aside, defense attorney Frank Spinner said.
Spinner said he might ask the general the vacate the verdict.
Prosecutors said Welshofer put a sleeping bag over the head of Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, sat on his chest and used his hand to cover the general's mouth while questioning him at a detention camp in Iraq in 2003.
Prosecutors said the general suffocated.
Spinner said he was gratified by Monday's verdict but said his client should never have been charged.
"When you send our men and women over there to fight, and to put their lives on the line, you've got to back them up, you've got to give them clear rules, and you've got to give them enough room to make mistakes without treating them like criminals," he said.
Welshofer said he had "the utmost respect for the decision the panel members came to tonight. ... I'm sure it was difficult for them."
Earlier in the day during the sentencing hearing, Welshofer fought back tears as he apologized and asked the military jury not to separate him from his wife and children by sending him to prison.
"I deeply apologize if my actions tarnished the soldiers serving in Iraq," Welshofer said.
His wife, Barbara, testified that she was worried about providing for their three children if her husband was sentenced to prison, but she said she was proud of him for contesting the case.
"I love him more for fighting this," she said, tears welling up in her eyes. "He's always said that you need to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing to do."
Lt. Col. Paul Calvert, also testifying on Welshofer's behalf, said attacks by Iraqi insurgents around the western Iraqi city of al Qaim, the area where Mowhoush was taken into custody, "went to practically none" when Mowhoush died.
Prosecutor Maj. Tiernan Dolan did not question the assertion but suggested Mowhoush's death likely denied coalition forces valuable information. Dolan did not call any witnesses at the sentencing hearing.
Welshofer, dressed in his Army uniform and seated between his attorneys, listened quietly Monday as other witnesses praised his abilities as a solider.
The defense had argued a heart condition caused Mowhoush's death, and that Welshofer's commanders had approved the interrogation technique.
Prosecutors described Welshofer as 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.