Every American should be forced to see the autopsy pictures of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush now on display at the trial of Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr.
Welshofer is charged with murdering the Iraqi general during a November 2003 interrogation. But what’s playing out in a Fort Carson courtroom is a nation’s shame, not just an individual’s.
The autopsy photos of Mowhoush make the now-infamous images from Abu Ghraib prison look like a costume party. Bruises and welts cover Mowhoush’s dead body. Doctors ruled that Mowhoush was smothered. Officials charge that Welshofer stuffed him inside a sleeping bag, bound him with an electric cord, sat on his chest and covered his mouth. Still, there is no question that Mowhoush also was savagely beaten.
The United States, which sanctimoniously lectures the rest of the world about human rights, did this. America’s political and military hierarchy approved harsher handling of military detainees after the 9/11 attacks. This is what we got.
The prosecution and defense in Welshofer’s trial continue to argue about who bears responsibility. Capt. Elana Matt, a prosecutor, claimed Welshofer “abandoned the moral high ground” in his handling of Mowhoush. As testimony drones on, it looks increasingly like America’s moral high ground has turned to quicksand.
Welshofer deserves punishment for killing Mowhoush. But the presidential administration and Army chain of command that lets military prisoners be stuffed in sleeping bags or wall lockers or held down to have water poured down their mouths and noses won’t get their due. The “non-military” folks (read CIA) whom a witness said beat Mowhoush two days before he died have not even been charged.
Welshofer’s company commander knew he was using the so-called “sleeping-bag technique.”
Mowhoush probably was a “high-value facilitator of the insurgency in Western Iraq,” to use the intelligence-speak of the chief prosecution witness, Chief Warrant Officer Jefferson Williams. But, as military judge Col. Mark Toole reminded everyone, “the victim is not on trial.”
American principles are. Williams testified after prosecutors dropped his murder charge in Mowhoush’s death. Testifying, as Williams did, under a grant of immunity, Sgt. Justin Lamb, the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment’s
chief interrogator, talked about “fear up” inquisitions. That’s why he invented the sleeping-bag trick. Along with packing prisoners in wall lockers, he used it to induce claustrophobia.
You slip the end of a sleeping bag over the prisoner’s head and tie the bag in place, Lamb explained. Then you roll the prisoner back and forth while asking questions.
And, allegedly, if you’re Lewis Welshofer, when the prisoner doesn’t give you what you want, you also sit on his chest and cover his mouth.
Prosecutors claimed this was not business as usual, that it was the cowboy misbehavior of a lone outlaw. Then their star witness, Williams, took the stand and described how the sleeping-bag technique was no more extreme than many other interrogation techniques he had witnessed. Williams also said he walked away from the eight to 10 “spooks” as they started to clobber Mowhoush with rubber hoses two days before the general died. Williams admitted to hearing screams after he left. He also said he saw “four to five men” carrying the general back to his “cage” afterward.
Similarly, when Welshofer invited Williams to be part of the eventually fatal interrogation of Mowhoush, Williams agreed, but said he had to get a cup of coffee first. Williams went for a second cup of Joe as Welshofer lowered the sleeping bag over Mowhoush’s head.
It was, apparently, no big thing.
For as long as it isn’t, this question about the humane treatment of military prisoners remains open for all Americans:
If the sleeping-bag technique was used against your soldiers, would you consider it wrong?
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