Defense calls for mistrial in soldier’s suffocation trial
FORT CARSON, Colo. – Attorneys for an Army officer accused of killing an Iraqi general during an interrogation called for a mistrial Wednesday after a witness said the defendant told him he had been advised by an attorney not to talk about the death.The judge immediately halted the court-martial of Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. after the testimony from William Hughes, a special agent of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division.Defense attorney Frank Spinner said the comment could unfairly lead jurors to conclude his client is guilty simply because he had invoked his right to counsel.”I believe this is an error of constitutional magnitude. I believe it justifies a declaration of a mistrial,” Spinner said.The judge, Col. Mark Toole, disagreed, saying the comment appeared to be a harmless error. He said jurors would be told to disregard Hughes’ testimony and instructed that seeking an attorney’s counsel is not an admission of guilt.Welshofer was charged with murder and dereliction of duty following the December 2003 death in Iraq of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush. Prosecutors said Mowhoush was placed headfirst in a sleeping bag and bound with an electrical cord for interrogation, and that he died while Welshofer sat on his chest, occasionally using his hands to cover Mowhoush’s mouth.The defense has argued that Welshofer did nothing illegal, was using a technique approved by his commander and had been under intense pressure to extract information from Mowhoush. His attorneys also allege that the Iraqi died not of asphyxia, as the autopsy report said, but from an irregular heart rhythm caused by heart disease and the stress of interrogation.Hughes was telling the court about his visit to the detention camp where Mowhoush died. He said Welshofer was giving him a tour when he said he was involved in the death and had been told by legal counsel to remain silent about it.With the jury out of the courtroom, prosecutor Maj. Tiernan Dolan questioned Hughes about the comment. Hughes replied that he was just trying to describe the steps of his investigation.Earlier, the judge overruled objections from the defense and media organizations and decided that portions of the court-martial, now in its third day, will be closed.One unidentified witness will testify behind closed doors and another will be shielded from public view by a screen erected in the courtroom.The witnesses were not identified and the nature of the testimony was not disclosed.Attorney Steve Zansberg, representing the AP, The Denver Post and The Gazette of Colorado Springs, asked Toole to consider the intense public interest in the case, referring to a Washington Post report that the Iraqi general had been beaten by interrogators linked to the CIA.The case “raises questions about the conduct of other government officials,” Zansberg said. “This case may be less about national security than national integrity.”Zansberg also said that much classified information in the case has already been made public in court hearings or through leaks to news organizations.Vail, Colorado
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