Documents Tell of Brutal
Torture, Murder by GIs
The Washington Post
Documents Tell of Brutal Improvisation by GIs
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 3, 2005; Page A01
Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush was being stubborn with
his American captors, and a series of intense beatings and
creative interrogation tactics were not enough to break his will.
On the morning of Nov. 26, 2003, a U.S. Army interrogator and a
military guard grabbed a green sleeping bag, stuffed Mowhoush
inside, wrapped him in an electrical cord, laid him on the floor
and began to go to work. Again.
It was inside the sleeping bag that the 56-year-old detainee
took his last breath through broken ribs, lying on the floor
beneath a U.S. soldier in Interrogation Room 6 in the western
Iraqi desert. Two days before, a secret CIA-sponsored group of
Iraqi paramilitaries, working with Army interrogators, had beaten
Mowhoush nearly senseless, using fists, a club and a rubber hose,
according to classified documents.
The sleeping bag was the idea of a soldier who remembered how
his older brother used to force him into one, and how scared and
vulnerable it made him feel. Senior officers in charge of the
facility near the Syrian border believed that such
"claustrophobic techniques" were approved ways to gain
information from detainees, part of what military regulations
refer to as a "fear up" tactic, according to military court
The circumstances that led up to Mowhoush's death paint a
vivid example of how the pressure to produce intelligence for
anti-terrorism efforts and the war in Iraq led U.S. military
interrogators to improvise and develop abusive measures, not just
at Abu Ghraib but in detention centers elsewhere in Iraq, in
Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mowhoush's ordeal in
Qaim, over 16 days in November 2003, also reflects U.S.
government secrecy surrounding some abuse cases and gives a
glimpse into a covert CIA unit that was set up to foment
rebellion before the war and took part in some interrogations
during the insurgency.
The sleeping-bag interrogation and beatings were taking place
in Qaim about the same time that soldiers at Abu Ghraib, outside
Baghdad, were using dogs to intimidate detainees, putting women's
underwear on their heads, forcing them to strip in front of
female soldiers and attaching at least one to a leash. It was a
time when U.S. interrogators were coming up with their own
tactics to get detainees to talk, many of which they considered
logical interpretations of broad-brush categories in the Army
Field Manual, with labels such as "fear up" or "pride and ego
down" or "futility."
Other tactics, such as some of those seen at Abu Ghraib, had
been approved for one detainee at Guantanamo Bay and found their
way to Iraq. Still others have been linked to official Pentagon
guidance on specific techniques, such as the use of dogs.
Two Army soldiers with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in
Fort Carson, Colo., are charged with killing Mowhoush with the
sleeping-bag technique, and his death has been the subject of
partially open court proceedings at the base in Colorado Springs.
Two other soldiers alleged to have participated face potential
nonjudicial punishment. Some details of the incident have been
released and were previously reported. But an examination of
numerous classified documents gathered during the criminal
investigation into Mowhoush's death, and interviews with Defense
Department officials and current and former intelligence
officials, present a fuller picture of what happened and outline
the role played in his interrogation by the CIA, its Iraqi
paramilitaries and Special Forces soldiers.
Determining the details of the general's demise has been
difficult because the circumstances are listed as "classified" on
his official autopsy, court records have been censored to hide
the CIA's involvement in his questioning, and reporters have been
removed from a Fort Carson courtroom when testimony relating to
the CIA has surfaced.
Despite Army investigators' concerns that the CIA and Special
Forces soldiers also were involved in serious abuse leading up to
Mowhoush's death, the investigators reported they did not have
the authority to fully look into their actions. The CIA inspector
general's office has launched an investigation of at least one
CIA operative who identified himself to soldiers only as "Brian."
The CIA declined to comment on the matter, as did an Army
spokesman, citing the ongoing criminal cases.
Although Mowhoush's death certificate lists his cause of death
as "asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression," the Dec.
2, 2003, autopsy, quoted in classified documents and released
with redactions, showed that Mowhoush had "contusions and
abrasions with pattern impressions" over much of his body, and
six fractured ribs. Investigators believed a "long straight-edge
instrument" was used on Mowhoush, as well as an "object like the
end of an M-16" rifle.
"Although the investigation indicates the death was directly
related to the non-standard interrogation methods employed on 26
NOV, the circumstances surrounding the death are further
complicated due to Mowhoush being interrogated and reportedly
beaten by members of a Special Forces team and other government
agency (OGA) employees two days earlier," said a secret Army memo
dated May 10, 2004.
Hours after Mowhoush's death in U.S. custody on Nov. 26, 2003,
military officials issued a news release stating that the
prisoner had died of natural causes after complaining of feeling
sick. Army psychological-operations officers quickly distributed
leaflets designed to convince locals that the general had
cooperated and outed key insurgents.
The U.S. military initially told reporters that Mowhoush had
been captured during a raid. In reality, he had walked into the
Forward Operating Base "Tiger" in Qaim on Nov. 10, 2003, hoping
to speak with U.S. commanders to secure the release of his sons,
who had been arrested in raids 11 days earlier.
Officials were excited about Mowhoush's appearance.
The general, they believed, had been a high-ranking official
in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard and a key supporter of the
insurgency in northwestern Iraq. Mowhoush was one of a few
generals whom Hussein had given "execution authority," U.S.
commanders believed, meaning that he could execute someone on
sight, and he had been notorious among Shiites in southern Iraq
Mowhoush had been visited by Hussein at his home in Sadah in
October 2003 "to discuss, among other undisclosed issues, a
bounty of US$10,000 to anyone who video-taped themselves
attacking coalition forces," according to a Defense Intelligence
Military intelligence also believed that Mowhoush was behind
several attacks in the Qaim area.
After being taken into custody, Mowhoush was housed in an
isolated area of the Qaim base within miles of the Syrian border,
according to a situation summary prepared by interrogators.
The heavyset and imposing man was moderately cooperative in
his first days of detention. He told interrogators that he was
the commander of the al Quds Golden Division, an organization of
trusted loyalists fueling the insurgency with mortars,
rocket-propelled grenades, sniper rifles, machine guns and other
In the months before Mowhoush's detention, military
intelligence officials across Iraq had been discussing
interrogation tactics, expressing a desire to ramp things up and
expand their allowed techniques to include more severe methods,
such as beatings that did not leave permanent damage, and
exploiting detainees' fear of dogs and snakes, according to
documents released by the Army.
Officials in Baghdad wrote an e-mail to interrogators in the
field on Aug. 14, 2003, stating that the "gloves are coming off"
and asking them to develop "wish lists" of tactics they would
like to use.
An interrogator with the 66th Military Intelligence Company,
who was assigned to work on Mowhoush, wrote back with suggestions
in August, including the use of "close confinement quarters,"
sleep deprivation and using the fear of dogs, adding: "I firmly
agree that the gloves need to come off."
Another e-mail exchange from interrogators with the 4th
Infantry Division based in Tikrit also suggested "close quarter
confinement" in extremely claustrophobic situations, because
"discomfort induces compliance and cooperation."
Taking the Gloves Off
A week into Mowhoush's detainment, according to classified
investigative documents, interrogators were getting fed up with
the prisoner. In a "current situation summary" PowerPoint
presentation dated Nov. 18, Army officials wrote about his
intransigence, using his first name (spelled "Abid" in Army
"Previous interrogations were non-threatening; Abid was being
treated very well. Not anymore," the document reads. "The
interrogation session lasted several hours and I took the gloves
off because Abid refused to play ball."
But the harsher tactics backfired.
In an interrogation that could be witnessed by the entire
detainee population, Mowhoush was put into an undescribed "stress
position" that caused the other detainees to stand "with heads
bowed and solemn looks on their faces," said the document.
"I asked Abid if he was strong enough a leader to put an end
to the attacks that I believed he was behind," the document said,
quoting an unidentified interrogator. "He did not deny he was
behind the attacks as he had denied previously, he simply said
because I had humiliated him, he would not be able to stop the
attacks. I take this as an admission of guilt."
Three days later, on Nov. 21, 2003, Mowhoush was moved from
the border base at Qaim to a makeshift detention facility about
six miles away in the Iraqi desert, a prison fashioned out of an
old train depot, according to court testimony and investigative
documents. Soldiers with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the
101st Airborne Division were running a series of massive raids
called Operation Rifles Blitz, and the temporary holding
facility, nicknamed Blacksmith Hotel, was designed to hold the
U.S. troops searched more than 8,000 homes in three cities,
netting 350 detainees, according to court testimony. Even though
Mowhoush was not arrested during the raids, he was moved to
Blacksmith Hotel, where teams of Army Special Forces soldiers and
the CIA were conducting interrogations.
At Blacksmith, according to military sources, there was a
tiered system of interrogations. Army interrogators were the
When Army efforts produced nothing useful, detainees would be
handed over to members of Operational Detachment Alpha 531,
soldiers with the 5th Special Forces Group, the CIA or a
combination of the three. "The personnel were dressed in civilian
clothes and wore balaclavas to hide their identity," according to
a Jan. 18, 2004, report for the commander of the 82nd Airborne
If they did not get what they wanted, the interrogators would
deliver the detainees to a small team of the CIA-sponsored Iraqi
paramilitary squads, code-named Scorpions, according to a
military source familiar with the operation. The Jan. 18 memo
indicates that it was "likely that indigenous personnel in the
employ of the CIA interrogated MG Mowhoush."
Sometimes, soldiers and intelligence officers used the mere
existence of the paramilitary unit as a threat to induce
detainees to talk, one Army soldier said in an interview.
"Detainees knew that if they went to those people, bad things
would happen," the soldier said. "It was used as a motivator to
get them to talk. They didn't want to go with the masked
The Scorpions went by nicknames such as Alligator and Cobra.
They were set up by the CIA before the war to conduct light
sabotage. After the fall of Baghdad, they worked with their CIA
handlers to infiltrate the insurgency and as interpreters,
according to military investigative documents, defense officials,
and former and current intelligence officials.
Soon after Mowhoush's detention began, soldiers in charge of
him "reached a collective decision that they would try using the
[redacted] who would, you know, obviously spoke the local, native
Iraqi Arabic as a means of trying to shake Mowhoush up, and that
the other thing that they were going to try to do was put a bunch
of people in the room, a tactic that Mr. [redacted] called 'fear
up,' " Army Special Agent Curtis Ryan, who investigated the case,
testified, according to a transcript.
Classified e-mail messages and reports show that "Brian," a
Special Forces retiree, worked as a CIA operative with the
On Nov. 24, the CIA and one of its four-man Scorpion units
interrogated Mowhoush, according to investigative records. "OGA
Brian and the four indig were interrogating an unknown detainee,"
according to a classified memo, using the slang "other government
agency" for the CIA and "indig" for indigenous Iraqis.
"When he didn't answer or provided an answer that they didn't
like, at first [redacted] would slap Mowhoush, and then after a
few slaps, it turned into punches," Ryan testified. "And then
from punches, it turned into [redacted] using a piece of
"The indig were hitting the detainee with fists, a club and a
length of rubber hose," according to classified investigative
Soldiers heard Mowhoush "being beaten with a hard object" and
heard him "screaming" from down the hall, according to the Jan.
18, 2004, provost marshal's report. The report said four Army
guards had to carry Mowhoush back to his cell.
Two days later, at 8 a.m., Nov. 26, Mowhoush -- prisoner No.
76 -- was brought, moaning and breathing hard, to Interrogation
Room 6, according to court testimony.
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. did a first round
of interrogations for 30 minutes, taking a 15-minute break and
resuming at 8:45. According to court testimony, Welshofer and
Spec. Jerry L. Loper, a mechanic assuming the role of guard, put
Mowhoush into the sleeping bag and wrapped the bag in electrical
Welshofer allegedly crouched over Mowhoush's chest to talk to
Sgt. 1st Class William Sommer, a linguist, stood nearby.
Chief Warrant Officer Jeff Williams, an intelligence analyst,
came to observe progress.
Investigative records show that Mowhoush "becomes
unresponsive" at 9:06 a.m. Medics tried to resuscitate him for 30
minutes before pronouncing him dead.
In a preliminary court hearing in March for Williams, Loper
and Sommer, retired Chief Warrant Officer Richard Manwaring, an
interrogator who worked with Welshofer in Iraq, testified that
using the sleeping bag and putting detainees in a wall locker and
banging on it were "appropriate" techniques that he himself used
to frighten detainees and make them tense.
Col. David A. Teeples, who then commanded the 3rd Armored
Cavalry Regiment, told the court he believed the "claustrophobic
technique" was both approved and effective. It was used before,
and for some time after, Mowhoush's death, according to sources
familiar with the interrogation operation.
"My thought was that the death of Mowhoush was brought about
by [redacted] and then it was unfortunate and accidental, what
had happened under an interrogation by our people," Teeples said
in court, according to a transcript.
The CIA has tried hard to conceal the existence of the
Scorpions. CIA classification officials have monitored pretrial
hearings in the case and have urged the court to close much of
the hearing on national security grounds. Redacted transcripts
were released only after lawyers for the Denver Post challenged
Autopsy Shields CIA
The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology's standard "Autopsy
Examination Report" of Mowhoush's death was manipulated to avoid
references to the CIA. In contrast to the other autopsy reports
of suspicious detainee deaths released by the Army, Mowhoush's
name is redacted and under "Circumstances of Death," the form
says: "This Iraqi [redacted] died while in U.S. custody. The
details surrounding the circumstances at the time of death are
Williams was arraigned yesterday on a murder charge and is
scheduled for court-martial in November, a Fort Carson
spokeswoman said. Welshofer's court-martial is set for October.
Loper and Sommer have not been referred for trial. Commanders are
still considering what, if any, punishment to impose.
Frank Spinner, an attorney for Welshofer, said his client is
going to fight the murder charge. Reading from a statement
prepared by Welshofer during his Article 32 hearing this spring,
Spinner quoted his client as saying that he is proud of the job
he did and that his efforts saved U.S. soldiers' lives. "I did
not torture anyone," Spinner quoted him as saying.
William Cassara, who represents Williams, cited Mowhoush's
brutal encounters in the days before he died as possibly leading
to his death. He said Williams, who was not trained in
interrogation tactics, had little to do with the case.
"The interrogation techniques were known and were approved of
by the upper echelons of command of the 3rd ACR," Cassara said in
a news conference. "They believed, and still do, that they were
appropriate and proper."
Staff writer Dana Priest contributed to this report.