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The Rocky Mountain News January 25, 2006

Peril seen in officer's sentence

By Dick Foster

COLORADO SPRINGS - A Fort Carson warrant officer's trial for the death of a captured Iraqi general could spark international reaction that will endanger Americans abroad and has exposed troublesome problems in the nation's intelligence apparatus, experts argued Tuesday.

Such was the range of opinion the day after Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. was issued a reprimand, a $6,000 fine and 60 days confinement for the suffocation death of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush during a 2003 interrogation in Iraq.

Welshofer was found guilty of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty.

The sentence sent a message to the international community that the United States doesn't care about humane treatment of war prisoners, said a human rights activist.

"This case has national and international repercussions, and I think the problem here is that it suggests to the world that Americans can commit abuses, commit torture, and get away with it," said David Danzig of Human Rights First, a New York-based advocacy group, who attended Welshofer's trial.

Welshofer was accused of suffocating Mowhoush by tying him in a sleeping bag, sitting on his chest and covering his mouth while trying to extract information on insurgents attacking U.S. troops in western Iraq in November 2003.

Humane treatment of captives by the United States is not reciprocated by enemies in the war on terrorism, a national defense analyst said.

"The problem with the current conflict is that when our people get captured, they get their heads chopped off," said John Pike, head of the defense think tank GlobalSecurity.org.

"If there was any potential for humane treatment on the part of al-Qaida if they captured our people, then there might be something to it," Pike said.

Welshofer's lawyer, Frank Spinner, argued that his client's sentence sent a different message - that U.S. military leaders should not punish those working to protect American lives.

"It said when you're going to send our men and women over there to fight and put their lives on the line, you've got to back them up," Spinner said. "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."

 


Copyright 2006, The E.W. Scripps Co.