Hearing closed in smothering of Iraqi general

/ Source: The Associated Press

Citing national security, the Army closed a hearing Thursday on whether three soldiers will be court-martialed for allegedly suffocating an Iraqi general during an interrogation last year.

Allowing the public and the media to observe “would cause serious damage to national security” and could jeopardize the defendants’ safety, investigating officer Capt. Robert Ayers said.

The Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing, began shortly afterward.

An attorney for The Denver Post had argued that the closing of the proceedings should be limited to testimony that could threaten national security.

“This is information the American people are profoundly and legitimately interested in knowing,” Steve Zansberg said. He also said many details in the death have already been publicized.

But Ayers said the entire hearing would be closed to the public.

The three defendants and one other soldier are accused of smothering Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, 57, at Qaim, Iraq, in November 2003. The soldiers could get life in prison without parole if convicted.

Chief Warrant Officers Jefferson Williams and Lewis Welshofer Jr., Sgt. 1st Class William Sommer and Spc. Jerry Loper are charged with murder and dereliction of duty. Welshofer’s hearing will be held later.

Williams, Sommer and Welshofer are with military intelligence. All four soldiers were assigned to Fort Carson at the time of Mowhoush’s death.

At least 19 prisoner deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have been investigated as homicides by the military; eight were determined to be justified killings of an escaping or dangerously violent prisoner.