Reprimand Only For Interrogation Death

A military jury has recommended that an officer once facing up to life in prison for the interrogation death of an Iraqi general be given only a reprimand, a decision that drew applause from soldiers.

Initially charged with murder, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. now faces no jail time, the forfeiture of $6,000 in salary and what amounts largely to a barracks restriction for 60 days.

"I deeply apologize if my actions tarnished the soldiers serving in Iraq," Welshofer said during his sentencing hearing. "It was never my intent to cast aspersions on their tremendous accomplishments."

Welshofer was convicted Saturday of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty for stuffing the Iraqi general headfirst into a sleeping bag and sitting on his chest.

The sentence will be reviewed by Fort Carson's commander, Maj. Gen. Robert W. Mixon. He cannot order a harsher sentence, said Welshofer's defense attorney Frank Spinner.

Prosecutors had described Welshofer as a rogue interrogator who became frustrated with Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush's refusal to answer questions and escalated his techniques from simple interviews to beatings to simulating drowning, and finally, to death.

The defense argued that a heart condition caused Mowhoush's 2003 death, and that Welshofer's commanders had approved the interrogation technique. Spinner also argued that interrogators were under pressure to extract information from detainees and to find a way to replace techniques that hadn't been working.

"It's one more of a string of messages going to the Pentagon," Spinner said. "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."

David Danzig, spokesman for New York-based Human Rights First, said he was shocked by what the thought was a too-lenient sentence.

"My concern is that it suggests the United States doesn't take these kinds of issues seriously," Danzig said. "There's no indication anything more will be done to account for the death of this detainee who was in U.S. custody."