Friday, January 20, 2006Fuck Yeah!
Trial Illuminates Dark Tactics of Interrogation
By Nicholas Riccardi
The Los Angeles Times
Friday 20 January 2006
Ft. Carson, Colo. - It was dubbed the "sleeping bag technique."
Interrogators at a makeshift prison in western Iraq, desperate to break suspected insurgents, would stuff them face-first into a sleeping bag with a small hole cut in the bottom for air.
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. used it on an Iraqi general as a last-ditch grab for information as Welshofer's unit was in the midst of an offensive against insurgents and desperate for intelligence.
The technique was not in the Army Field Manual, but Welshofer testified Thursday that he believed it was permitted after top commanders told interrogators "the gloves were coming off."
But Welshofer got no information.
Military prosecutors allege that Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, 57, suffocated in the sleeping bag as Welshofer sat on him. Welshofer's murder trial, which began this week at the home base of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to which he was assigned in Iraq, opens a window into the murky world of military interrogations.
Issues raised by the prosecutors and the defense about how to calibrate interrogations during the war against terrorism echo those made during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the recent debate in Washington over banning torture.
Welshofer described spending months in Iraq without any clear directives about how to manage interrogations. When rules came down, he said, they were vague and he soon found that his training did not apply.
"There was no preparation from the schoolhouse at all for what we encountered in Iraq," he said. "The doctrine was based on an enemy from 60 years ago."
But the prosecutor, Lt. Tiernan Dolan, said that Welshofer took advantage of, or blatantly neglected, decades of military standards in how to practice interrogation. "You use psychological ploys to let [detainees] know you are in control," he told Welshofer. "But you crossed the line from psychological control to physical control."
When Welshofer and Mowhoush met in the fall of 2003, the insurgency was gaining strength and interrogators were under intense pressure to obtain leads from Saddam Hussein loyalists, such as the captured general.
U.S. commanders at the time had asked for what Welshofer called a "wish list" of new interrogation techniques. Beginning in September, U.S. generals in Iraq issued a stream of rules on the acceptable bounds of interrogation, sometimes shifting them from week to week.
A witness who testified behind a screen on Wednesday - whom an attorney inadvertently referred to as someone who worked for the CIA - said Welshofer told him the day before Mowhoush's death that he was aware of the most recent regulations, but that "he was breaking those rules every day."
Welshofer said he did not recall the conversation, but his attorney, Frank Spinner, argued that his client was navigating a gray zone. Spinner cited disagreements within the Bush administration about what techniques constituted torture. "There are not clear-cut rules here," Spinner told the panel of six officers, who will determine whether Welshofer is guilty. He faces life imprisonment if convicted.