June 23, 2004 - U.S. Army officials plan to file negligent-homicide and manslaughter charges against two Fort Carson-based military intelligence officers who allegedly suffocated an Iraqi general during an interrogation in November, The Denver Post has learned.
Two other enlisted soldiers face dereliction-of-duty charges in the fatal interrogation, according to a Pentagon document obtained by the newspaper.
Prosecution of the two officers would mark the first time service members involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have faced homicide-related charges in connection with the abuse of prisoners of war. Military experts say it could be the first such action in recent history.
A decision on the case has moved slowly because the soldiers' commander, Col. David Teeples of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, has "been reluctant to pursue charges" while military lawyers have favored prosecution, according to a Department of Defense source.
Although Maj. Gen. Robert Wilson, the commanding general of Fort Carson, is responsible for formally authorizing charges, Teeples has been responsible for forwarding a recommendation in the case. But Teeples has taken a new assignment in Washington, D.C., possibly hastening the prosecution process.
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, a member of the 66th Military Intelligence Group, allegedly smothered Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, a commander of Saddam Hussein's air forces, in a sleeping bag while sitting on his chest and covering his mouth, according to investigative reports previously obtained by The Post.
Another chief warrant officer in his unit, Jeff Williams, was involved in the interrogation, according to sources. Welshofer has refused to comment, saying only that he saved lives. As for the pending charges, he said Wednesday that "it is really not in my best interest at this time" to talk. Williams has not returned phone calls or responded to a letter seeking comment.
The two warrant officers will be charged with negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter, according to the Pentagon document, which notes the investigation is ongoing.
Under military law, the maximum prison term for involuntary manslaughter is 10 years; for negligent homicide it is three years.
The two enlisted soldiers facing dereliction charges were not identified by name or rank in the Pentagon document. However, members of a special-forces unit are alleged to have struck the general, separate records show. Allegations that CIA personnel beat Mowhoush are under another review by the Justice Department, sources have told The Post.
Click here for online-only extras on the Iraq prisoner-abuse story, including interactive presentations, photos and video, transcripts of congressional hearings, the Army's investigative report and an archive of coverage.
Among issues that have complicated the Mowhoush case are the multiple interrogators involved and Teeples' delay in deciding whether to recommend prosecution of his soldiers, according to the Defense Department source. In the military, commanders rather than prosecutors ultimately decide whether to launch criminal proceedings against soldiers.
Teeples, who formally leaves his Fort Carson command today, gave Welshofer and Williams reprimands earlier this year that forbade them from participating in further interrogations, records show.
In interviews with The Post, Teeples denied stalling prosecution of the two officers but declined to discuss the case in detail. Teeples played down the significance of Mowhoush's death in the larger scheme of the war and hailed the character of his troops.
Mowhoush "was a very, very bad person," Teeples said. "...When it all comes out, you'll see every man in this regiment is a good man."
Once charges are filed, the case could go to an Article 32 hearing to determine whether enough evidence exists to go to trial. Wilson, the Fort Carson commanding general, declined repeated requests to comment.
Mowhoush was a "high-priority" target wanted for questioning last fall, a time when U.S. officials were conducting a frantic search for weapons of mass destruction as well as seeking information about people responsible for violent anti-coalition insurgencies.
According to documents obtained by The Post, once the general was in U.S. custody on Nov. 10, he underwent more than two weeks of daily interrogations involving personnel with "OGA," a pseudonym for the CIA, as well as special-forces soldiers with Operational Detachment Alpha and members of the 66th. The special-forces troops and "OGA" personnel are suspected of beating the general at the facility in Qaim, Iraq, sometime in the 48-hour time span before the military intelligence officers took over, according to witness statements, the report states.
After Welshofer allegedly sat on Mowhoush's chest and covered his mouth, the general became "nonresponsive," medics were called and he was pronounced dead, documents state. After The Post reported the circumstances surrounding Mowhoush's death May 19, the Pentagon released Mowhoush's death certificate, citing his death as a homicide.
The case has become the focus of an inquiry by Democratic members of Congress, including California Rep. Loretta Sanchez and Arkansas Rep. Vic Snyder, who have demanded answers about the handling of Mowhoush, including the release of a press statement soon after his death stating the general "didn't feel well" and apparently died of "natural causes." The statement is still posted on the Defense Department website.
In recent hearings of the House Armed Services Committee, Snyder has repeatedly asked top military officials to explain their handling of Mowhoush's death, including their press statement.
"The problem is it does not seem to me that you all are interested in getting things out on the table," Snyder told Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz during a hearing Tuesday, citing questions raised in The Post's reports.
"Well, I think we are determined to get everything out on the table," Wolfowitz replied. "...On many of the issues that we're dealing with, we're trying to get the facts up. It's not a matter of hiding facts but a matter of multiple investigations that are underway to try to find out what really happened."
Trial proceedings for the interrogators could showcase fascinating legal arguments on issues of torture, said Eugene Fidell, director of the National Institute for Military Justice.
"It will undoubtedly be an interesting case," Fidell said. "A flashlight is now being shined on some quite obscure corners of the military justice system. It happens from time to time that people get very lenient treatment from a commander who may know the soldiers personally. But the harsh light of time, distance and media attention can lead higher authorities to take a second look."
Duke University law professor Scott Silliman, an officer of the Judge Advocate General's Office for 25 years, said he had never heard of a military officer being charged with homicide in the death of an inmate.
"That's something unique to have a prison guard or interrogator, because of their physical action, to have caused the death of someone," he said. "It's pretty novel."
Silliman said he expects defense attorneys to blame the CIA personnel for contributing to the death - or commanders for ordering the interrogation.
The argument could be that "this was not just two soldiers who dreamed this up, but it was part of the fabric ... established by the White House counsel and Justice Department," he added. "There are others who at least share responsibility."
Staff writer Miles Moffeit can be reached at 303-820-1415 or email@example.com . Staff writer Arthur Kane can be reached at 303-820-1626 or firstname.lastname@example.org .