updated 10/5/2004 5:56:32 AM ET 2004-10-05T09:56:32

Four soldiers accused of smothering an Iraqi general during an interrogation last fall have been charged with murder, bringing the total number of U.S. troops charged with murder in Iraq to at least 10.

The soldiers could get life in prison without parole if convicted in the Nov. 26 death of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, 57, at Qaim, Iraq. The Army said Mowhoush died of asphyxiation from chest compression and from being smothered.

The handling of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops has become a worldwide scandal, fed by images from the Abu Ghraib prison. But Mowhoush’s case is rare, said Christopher Wilson, a former military prosecutor now in private practice in California.

“I don’t know of any other case where a major general died of asphyxiation during interrogation. I doubt that this has happened in the past 50 years,” he said.

The Army gave no details on what the soldiers are alleged to have done. But The Denver Post, citing unidentified military documents, reported earlier this year that Chief Warrant Officers Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. and Jefferson L. Williams slid a sleeping bag over Mowhoush’s head and rolled him from his back to his stomach while asking questions. Also charged in the death were Sgt. 1st Class William J. Sommer and Spc. Jerry L. Loper.

Mowhoush, a member of the Republican Guard’s air defense branch, was captured in a raid in Qaim. A U.S. military spokeswoman said at the time that Mowhoush was believed to have been financing attacks on American forces.

All four soldiers charged were assigned to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Fort Carson, at the time of Mowhoush’s death and have since returned to the United States. Williams has transferred to the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Gordon, Ga.

None of the soldiers has been jailed, officials said. Their ages and hometowns were not immediately available. They could get life in prison without parole if convicted.

Welshofer, whose mother said he is married with three children and grew up in Middletown, Ohio, did not immediately return a call for comment. The three others did not have listed numbers.

A decision on whether to court-martial the men will be made after an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a preliminary hearing in civilian court.

Four soldiers from Fort Riley, Kan., were charged last month with murder in the deaths of four Iraqi civilians in two incidents. A soldier from 1st Armored Division in Germany has been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a badly wounded driver for militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Another soldier was sentenced to 25 years in prison last month after pleading guilty to murder in the death of an Iraqi National Guard member. His unit was not identified.

Two other Fort Carson soldiers face courts-martial on manslaughter charges in connection with an unrelated death in Iraq — that of the drowning of an Iraqi civilian in the Tigris River.

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