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No jail time for officer in Iraqi general's death

A military jury of six officers on Monday ordered a reprimand for an officer once facing the possibility of  life in prison for the death of an Iraqi general during an interrogation session.
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer will avoid jail time but will forfeit $6,000 salary and be restricted in his whereabouts for 60 days.Jerilee Bennett / AP / The Gazette file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A military jury of six officers on Monday ordered a reprimand for an officer once facing up to life in prison for the death of an Iraqi general during an interrogation session.

Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. also was ordered to forfeit $6,000 salary and was restricted to his place of work, worship and barracks for 60 days. The sentence now goes to the commanding general, Maj. Gen. Robert W. Mixon, who can order a lighter sentence or set the whole verdict aside, defense attorney Frank Spinner said.

Welshofer, 43, had originally been charged with murder, but instead he was convicted on Saturday of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty and faced up to three years and three months in prison, a dishonorable discharge, loss of his pension and other penalties.

Welshofer was convicted of stuffing the general headfirst into a sleeping bag and sitting on his chest.

Cheers from fellow soldiers
After hearing the light sentence, Welshofer hugged his wife and soldiers in the gallery watching the trial, many who had worked with Welshofer and who testified as character witnesses, broke into applause.

Spinner said Mixon cannot ordered a harsher sentence and said he might ask the general to set aside the verdict.

“I have the utmost respect for the decision the panel members came to tonight,” Welshofer said. “I’m sure it was difficult for them.”

Spinner said he was happy with the decision but said his client should never have been charged. He said it seems the military jury accepted his argument that Welshofer did what he thought was right without clear guidance from his commanders and during a chaotic time.

“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.

Officer apologizes
Earlier in the day, Welshofer fought back tears 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,” Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. said at his sentencing hearing.

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.

The judge, Col. Mark Toole, said earlier Monday a juror had sent him a note asking if part of the verdict could be reconsidered.

Toole gave no details but said it was too late for such a request. He said the note would be sealed and would be available if the case is appealed.

Defense attorney Frank Spinner has said any decision about an appeal would depend on the sentence.

When he finished his testimony, Welshofer mouthed, “I love you” to his wife, Barbara.

Support from officer’s wife
She testified earlier that she was worried about providing for their three children if her husband went 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.”

Earlier, Lt. Col. Paul Calvert, 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” after Mowhoush died.

Prosecutor Maj. Tiernan Dolan did not question the assertion but suggested Mowhoush’s death probably denied coalition forces valuable information. Dolan did not call any witnesses at the sentencing hearing.

Welshofer acquitted of murder, a charge that could have brought a life sentence.

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.