Brigadier General David Irvine and Human Rights First’s David Danzig write about the case of Chief Warrant Officer Terry Welshofer, recently convicted of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty for beating an Iraqi general and smothering him in a sleeping bag. They dig into the subtext of the light sentence – a letter of reprimand, two months’ confinement to post, and forfeiture of $6,000 in pay – which they refer to as “revenge upon the prosecution”:
The jury’s decision also underscores the pattern in the Army and at the Pentagon of enforcing accountability for prisoner torture at the bottom of the ranks, without any serious effort to enforce it at the top. If Welshofer was singled out by prosecutors for “trying to save soldiers’ lives” under ambiguous or contradictory command guidance — which his defense attorneys hammered at over and over during the court martial — why hasn’t the Army focused its prosecutorial lasers on those generals who fumbled the command guidance, or upon those colonels who were responsible for seeing that only approved interrogation techniques were put to use?
One striking fact to come out of the Welshofer trial was that he was operating on his own, with little direct supervision by his company commander, or the commanders up the chain of command. Were the jurors aware that of all the generals whose fingerprints were on Abu Ghraib, only one was ever disciplined by receiving a reduction in rank to colonel? Was it lost upon the jurors that the regimental commander, for whom Welshofer was his prized interrogation “subject-matter expert,” was now serving in a plum Pentagon post while Welshofer was facing life in prison? This juxtaposition surely must have seemed discordant to the jury, especially knowing that the Army Field Manual — also known as the Army’s “operations bible” — states: “The commander is responsible for all his unit does or fails to do.”
It may also have seemed discordant that an Army warrant officer alone was in the dock for alleged brutality and torture when “other U.S. civilians” involved in Mowhoush’s capture — presumably meaning CIA personnel and the Iraqi paramilitaries in their employ — severely beat an enemy army flag officer, who was clearly entitled to Geneva Conventions protections, within an inch of his life.
If Welshofer was acting on orders, responsibility should flow up. If he acted without orders due to inadequate supervision, responsibility should flow up.