An Iraqi general who died while stuffed in a sleeping bag during an interrogation by U.S. soldiers was the head of the insurgency in western Iraq and in charge of ferrying foreign fighters into the country in the fall of 2003, according to witnesses who testified Friday at the murder trial of the lead interrogator.
Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, 57, died after 16 days in American captivity while undergoing interrogation in a sleeping bag, wrapped in an electric cord. Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. was sitting on his chest, occasionally placing his hand over the prisoner's mouth.
Testimony in Welshofer's Army court-martial concluded Friday, and the case is expected to go to a six-officer panel today. Welshofer faces up to life in a military prison if convicted.
Two intelligence officers with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, to which Welshofer was assigned in 2003, testified that Mowhoush was a much sought-after target as the insurgency strengthened in the region around the border town of Qaim.
"Anything that went through that town ran through him," Maj. Robert Short said on the witness stand Friday. "You can liken him to a mob boss in the 1920s."
Short and another intelligence officer, whose testimony was read in court because he was still in Iraq, said Mowhoush led the insurgency in the region. Other insurgent groups deferred to Mowhoush, who had been a general in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, Short said.
The judge, Col. Mark Toole, warned that Mowhoush was not on trial but allowed witnesses to describe Mowhoush's intelligence value so the officers panel could decide whether Welshofer was willfully derelict in his duty to protect the prisoner's health.
Several intelligence officers testified Friday that top U.S. commanders had given little guidance on how to handle interrogations. "You didn't receive it; you had to go look for it," said James Reese, who was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at the time and occasionally worked with Welshofer.
Prosecutors contend that Welshofer had been aware of general guidelines on permissible interrogation set by the top commander in Iraq at the time, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. One witness who testified from behind a curtain this week, and who apparently works for the CIA, said that the day before Mowhoush died, Welshofer told the witness that he was aware of regulations but was "breaking those rules every day." Welshofer denies making that statement.
Mowhoush surrendered to U.S. forces Nov. 11, 2003, hoping to secure release of his four captured sons. Lt. Col. Paul Calvert, a top officer with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, testified Friday that good intelligence was crucial at that time because U.S. forces did not know who was behind the growing insurgency.
"We lived and died off intelligence," Calvert said. "Intelligence is what drove operations. The lack of intelligence and information significantly impeded our ability to do operations."
Maj. Tiernan Dolan, the lead prosecutor, asked Calvert whether there were standards in obtaining that information.
"There is a right way and a wrong way," Calvert said.
"That's what makes our Army what it is, isn't it?" Dolan asked. "Always standing on the high ground?"
Calvert agreed and left the witness stand, ending the defense's case.