Last weekend on 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley interviewed Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, who stands charged with the murder of Iraqi major general Abid Hamed Mowhoush during the search for Saddam Hussein in 2003. When the Army captured Mowhoush, a soldier with close ties to Saddam who might know the Iraqi dictator's location, his interrogation was assigned to Welshofer. He spent three days questioning Mowhoush, and he got nothing. Then he tried a different tactic.
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.Prior to implementing this tactic, Welshofer asked permission from his commanding officer, Major Jessica Voss. She approved it. After 30 minutes, Mowhoush was dead.
Welshofer was issued a letter of reprimand from the Army and the case was closed. But three months later, the press published photographs from Abu Ghraib and the world exploded. Although Welshofer's base was miles away from Abu Ghraib, the Army promptly re-opened his case and charged him with murder.
60 Minutes interviewed Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. Sanchez is outraged by Mowhoush's death, and she's demanding answers and accountability from the Department of Defense. She seemed to agree that Welshofer is being made a scapegoat, pointing to an e-mail in which Welshofer and his comrades were specifically instructed to take off the gloves. "We want these individuals broken," the e-mail read.
At one point, the Army's official rules governing interrogation were revised and reissued thrice in 30 days. Welshofer and his soldiers were on the receiving end of a dizzying barrage of conflicting directives, and it's amazing that Welshofer showed the professionalism and integrity to consult with his commanding officer before employing a non-standard interrogation technique. Regardless, Sanchez is furious, and she's determined that someone will answer for Mowhoush's murder.
I'm furious, too. But I could give a damn about what Welshofer did. I'm more concerned by something else.
Two days before he died, Gen. Mowhoush was visited by a team from U.S. Army Special Forces and the CIA, men who came equipped with rubber hoses. When the general continued to insist he knew nothing, Welshofer watched the session turn violent.Until his sleeping bag stunt, Welshofer says the worst he did was to slap Mowhoush once. That doesn't surprise me. We drown these guys in policies and guidelines; we ask them to stand on the front lines and then we threaten them with jail if they break our rules of etiquette. But I maintained faith that in back rooms, the unnamed soldiers of Special Forces were doing what's necessary to get intelligence from these captives.
The pictures from Abu Ghraib were embarrassing — not because they broke the Geneva Conventions, but because they showed teenagers screwing around rather than soldiers manhandling detainees. It was humiliation without purpose. It was spring break for vandals. I hoped that somewhere, someone was crossing the lines that needed to be crossed, not simply for sake of amusement but to achieve real strategic objectives. And it turns out that's not the case. When they show up, they honestly do show up with rubber hoses.
Let me tell you. The first thing you do, if you're Special Forces, you close the door. Welshofer doesn't get to stay. He doesn't get to watch. He's probably a nice guy and he's probably a good soldier, but there's a reason you have Special Forces and it isn't because they look good on TV. They belong behind closed doors.
Then you bring in another Iraqi, some prisoner who means nothing. You stand him in front of Mowhoush and you take your pistol and you shoot him in the head. Now you've established clarity. Mowhoush understands you're not bluffing, that he's either going to leave his life or he's going to leave the information in that room. And if he doesn't start talking, then you take out your knife and you start with his thumb.
We're capturing men who have lived under the yoke of Saddam Hussein, for Christ's sake, and we think we can break these men with sleep deprivation and tricky questions. In Saddam's army, if you didn't cooperate, you bled. We're crumbcake to these guys. We're cheese Danish, and our prisoners are being blown up and decapitated. But we still want to believe in the myth of polite warfare. I had hoped that while the liberals ran the protocol in Congress, that overseas, a different story was taking shape — that hard men were protecting our troops at any cost. It turns out that's not the case. And we're losing.