That was the dilemma facing Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer while interrogating an Iraqi major general, among the most important prisoners of the time. During interrogation, the general died. Did Welshofer go too far to protect his fellow soldiers? The army thought so — and has charged him with murder.
Welshofer tells his side of the story for the first time to correspondent Scott Pelley.
In the fall of 2003, American troops had defeated the Iraqi army, but they were still losing lives to a well-funded insurgency. Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer was under pressure to stop the killing and maiming of Americans that he saw every day.
"The ambulance come in and it's got a guy, maybe you know him, maybe you don't. But he's yelling and screaming," Welshofer recalls. "You know, he's missing a body part. Blood all over the place. And you just tell yourself, you know what? This has got to stop. You have to protect these guys."
The way to protect them, according to the military, was by finding Saddam Hussein — who was then still at large — and by cracking the insurgency. One day, the key to the solution appeared on Welshofer's doorstep: an Iraqi major general with close links to Saddam. His name was Abid Hamed Mowhoush.
Welshofer says he thought Mowhoush might know where Saddam was hiding and also help him understand how the insurgency was organized and financed.
Welshofer questioned Mowhoush, didn't lay a hand on him, and got nothing out of him. So he turned up the heat.
"I put him on his knees and I used the facial slap," recalls Welshofer.
How did the general react?
"I sent a very clear signal," says Welshofer. "And he received it in a very clear manner. His complete demeanor changed at that point. He understood that this was not just some friendly conversation anymore, and that we meant business."
But the general insisted he knew nothing about Saddam or the insurgency — so after three days of fruitless interrogation and sleep deprivation, Welshofer got creative.
He remembered that years before, in an approved training exercise, he helped stuff American soldiers into oil drums to induce claustrophobia and panic. The idea was to teach our soldiers for what could happen if they were captured. In Iraq, Welshofer did much the same thing, this time, with a sleeping bag.
Asked to explain how the sleeping bag was used on Mowhoush, Welshofer said, "Take the sleeping bag and he's standing up. And you take the bag and you kind of put it down upside down, so that his head ends up where the feet normally would be."
Welshofer explained the bag came down over the general's head, and was open at the bottom and open at the back.
Mowhoush weighed more than 250 pounds. He was 56 years old and not in good shape. Welshofer took an electrical cord, wrapped it around Mowhoush's middle to hold the bag in place, and put Mowhoush on his stomach. Then he straddled him.
"The idea is you are putting him in a close confinement. You want to maximize the idea of him not being able to move," says Welshofer.
But when Mowhoush didn't give him the answers he was looking for, Welshofer says he put his hand over his mouth, while the general was in the sleeping bag.
"Over his mouth and nose?" Pelley asked.
"No, over his mouth," Welshofer replied. "And he continues to talk underneath my hand. He continues to — you know — 'Wallah, wallah,' you know, 'I'm not who you think I am,' things like that."