Colorado Soldiers' Murder Hearing Halted Over Closure Issue

December 4 2004, 2:15 PM

Four soldiers from Fort Carson have been charged with murder over the death of Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abid Mowhoush, a prisoner at Qaim, Iraq, on Nov. 26, 2003. An Article 32 hearing, which is the military equivalent's of a probable cause hearing, began Thursday for three of them, Chief Warrant Officer Jefferson L. Williams, Sgt. 1st Class William J. Sommer and Spc. Jerry L. Loper. Captain Robert Ayers, the presiding officer at the hearing closed the proceeding to the public, citing national security concerns. The Denver Post sued to open it to the public, and a military appeals court has ordered the hearing stopped while it decides the closure issue.

The Post's filing argued that there is precedent to close only the parts of the hearing where classified evidence is discussed and that the public has a right to know what is happening in the murder case. "The closure order entered by the investigating officer is plainly overbroad and directly contrary to the clear dictates of" previous cases, attorneys wrote.

Military experts say its unusual to close an Article 32 hearing. Colorado Congressman Joel Hefley has said he will keep an eye on the case and be watchful for signs of a cover-up. Cover-up of what? Possibly the "tag team" interrogations that have been popular in the military since the 9/11 attacks but heavily criticised as being too harsh.

Details surrounding interrogations in Iraq and Afghanistan could remain murky for years, but this much is known: Many of the brutal tactics, documents show, arose during an effort to pack multiple interrogators and other personnel - sometimes representing multiple agencies - into the interview room. To many veterans of intelligence gathering, this represents a drastic and troubling departure driven by the highly improvised post-Sept. 11, 2001, war efforts. "This goes absolutely contrary to what we've learned," said Torin S. Nelson, a veteran Army interrogator who was rehired as a civilian contractor during the current Iraq war. "Now they're using these chains of interrogators going in one after another to break the prisoner. This is contrary to breaking through to the prisoner" psychologically.

The Post reports that at least 3 other military prisoners have died after being questioned by multiple persons from different agencies in a short span of time. It seems like when the Administration floats the "few bad apples" theory, as in the case of PFC Lynndie England or Sgt. Charles Graner, no detail is too small to report. But when it looks like the big cheese may be at fault, the Adminstration clams up. Thanks is due the Post for holding the military's feet to the fire on this one. Editor's Note: A 5280 writer was present when Maj. Gen. Mowhoush was arrested in Iraq last year. A description of his arrest can be found on page 6 of this article.