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U.S. Soldier Convicted of Murder Receives No Jail Time While Nonviolent Antiwar Protesters Sentenced to Six Months in Prison

StoryJanuary 26, 2006
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Nan Aron

President of Alliance for Justice which is a national association of public interest and civil rights organizations.

Sean Rushton

Executive Director of the Committee for Justice.

Who goes to jail? While an army interrogator convicted of brutally killing an Iraqi general during receives no jail time, we look at the case of New York peace activists who have been sentenced to six months in jail for protesting war. [includes rush transcript]

We turn now to a pair of court rulings that made headlines this week. In Colorado a military jury decided on Monday not to jail an Army interrogator being tried for the killing of an Iraqi prisoner. Meanwhile a group of four peace activists in New York were sentenced to up to 6 months for spilling their own blood at a military recruiting station.

In the case of the Army interrogator, human rights groups are criticizing the military jury’s decision not to jail Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr for torturing and killing Abed Hamed Mowhoush.

Mowhoush died after Welshofer put a sleeping bag over his head, wrapped him in an electrical cord, covered his mouth and sat on his chest.

Welshofer was convicted of negligent homicide. Instead of jail time, the military chose to fine Welshofer $6,000 and ordered him to spend the next 60 days restricted to his home, office and church.

  • David Danzig, of Human Rights First. He has just returned from Colorado where he attended the military trial of Army interrogator Lewis Welshofer. David Danzig is the campaign Manager for Human Rights First’s campaign to address abuses that have taken place in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.
    - Read HRF’s trial monitoring journal.

While Welshofer remains free, four peace activists in upstate New York are heading to jail this week.

The group, known as the St. Patrick’s Four, were arrested in March 2003 after staging an act of civil disobedience inside a military recruiting station by spilling containers filled with their own blood. The protest occurred days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

They were convicted last fall on several misdemeanor counts for damaging government property and entering a military station for an unlawful purpose.

So far two of the activists, Daniel Burns and Clare Grady, have been sentenced to six months in jail. Peter DeMott was sentenced to four months in prison and four months in a halfway house. And the fourth protester, Teresa Grady, will be sentenced on Friday. She joins us in our firehouse studio.

  • Teresa Grady, one of the St. Patrick’s Four defendants.
    - More information at:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to David Danzig of Human Rights First. He has just returned from Colorado where he attended the military trial of army interrogator Lewis Welshofer. David Danzig is the campaign manager for Human Rights First’s campaign to address abuses that have taken place in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere. Welcome to Democracy Now!

DAVID DANZIG: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. So, what happened? The warrant officer is convicted, but then freed?

DAVID DANZIG: Essentially, he has 60 days of house arrest. He can go to his place of worship, and he can move freely around the base, but it’s essentially 60 days for murder.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the case. Explain exactly what he did.

DAVID DANZIG: Well, what he did is quite shocking and grotesque. He was in the midst of an interrogation, put an Iraqi detainee head-first into a sleeping bag. And then he wrapped him in an electrical cord quite tightly, lay him on the ground, sat on him, apparently used parts of the sleeping bag to sort of smother him. And it appears that this detainee died of asphyxiation as a result.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And this detainee was a general, right? So that even within the military conduct, officers are generally treated, even as prisoners of war, with some more deference than even enlisted soldiers, aren’t they?

DAVID DANZIG: There’s no question that the Geneva Conventions should have applied and didn’t in this case. But what actually may be even more shocking about this is not just what Lewis Welshofer did, but what the army said he could do. The army — his direct supervisor, a major in the army said — signed off on this quote-unquote "technique," allowed him to put people head-first into sleeping bags, wrap them in electrical cords, and essentially abuse them. And so, even though it is shocking that he only got 60 days, in some ways it sort of makes some sense. The senior commanders in Iraq and the civilians who are in charge of the military opened the door to these kinds of abuses, and that’s part of why I think he ended up only getting 60 days.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at the Columbia Daily Tribune headline, "C.I.A.’s Role in Death of Iraqi Mysterious." It’s a piece from A.P., and it says, "The initials were spoken aloud only once all week, apparently by mistake. After last week’s testimony, any role the C.I.A. had or didn’t have in the interrogation of an Iraqi general who died in U.S. custody remains a tantalizing and mysterious backdrop to the court-martial of army Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer. The C.I.A. is the ghost at the banquet," it’s quoting Eugene Fidell, an expert in military law. He says: "We’re playing Hamlet, without Hamlet here." Can you talk about the mention of the C.I.A.?

DAVID DANZIG: Sure. Well, what happened is, two days before this detainee died, the C.I.A. took over a piece of the interrogation, and what they did was, brought Iraqis in their own control into the interrogation room and essentially beat this detainee to a bloody pulp using rubber hoses. And this was done in front of Chief Welshofer, who then two days later used his quote-unquote "sleeping bag technique." Strangely, no one involved in that beating or in any of the other abuses that took place in this detention facility — and there appear to have been many — from the C.I.A. has been held accountable at all. And so, I think part of what the jury was saying by only giving Chief Welshofer 60 days was: 'Look, he's not the only one who’s responsible for the bad things that were happening in this place.’

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in his defense, did he — what defense did he mount to the charges, that 'I was following orders,' or that 'this was acceptable on the part of my superiors'?

DAVID DANZIG: He presented himself as a proud, mission-oriented soldier and said, essentially, that he was following orders. There was some suggestion that he wasn’t told specifically to sit on the chest. But it is fairly clear that he believes that he was doing the right thing. And that is an indictment of the system in general, not just of Chief Welshofer.

AMY GOODMAN:I wanted to just read one other part of this A.P. piece. You were there, so you can elaborate on it. "Defense lawyer Frank Spinner at one point questioned a witness whose identity is so secret that he was shielded from reporters and others by a green tarp suspended from the ceiling. The witness had said he was alarmed when Welshofer told him he thought the army’s interrogation guidelines were being broken every day. " 'And you didn't report it to the C.I.A.,’ Spinner asked? The attorney then stopped himself and quickly apologized to the judge. Spinner’s apparent slip, and the mystery surrounding that witness and others who have testified behind closed doors, over the objections of reporters, were not the only indications of how sensitive the case is and how much remains secret."

DAVID DANZIG: That’s absolutely right. Even mentioning the three little letters, " C.I.A.," in the court was off-limits, considered classified. And so, to the point that things are in the shadows is quite extraordinary with respect to the C.I.A.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And your monitoring of this case — is your group monitoring other military trials that are going on, as well?

DAVID DANZIG: Absolutely, we are; and that’s part of what’s troubling about this, is that there’s a pattern of abuse and people who are not being held accountable. This is one case of many.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, while Welshofer remains free, four peace activists in Upstate New York are heading to jail this week. The group known as the St. Patrick’s Four were arrested in March 2003 after staging an act of civil disobedience inside a military recruiting station by spilling containers filled with their own blood. The protest occurred days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. They were convicted last fall on several misdemeanor counts for damaging government property and entering a military station for an unlawful purpose. So far, two of the activists, Daniel Burns and Clare Grady, have been sentenced to six months in jail. Peter DeMott was sentenced to four months in prison and four months in a halfway house, and the fourth protester, Teresa Grady, will be sentenced on Friday. She joins us in our Firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!

TERESA GRADY: Thank you very much, Juan and Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re going to be sentenced tomorrow?

TERESA GRADY: I will be sentenced tomorrow at 11:30 in Binghamton Federal Court, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us more about what you did and about the trial and the sentence you face?

TERESA GRADY: Well, the four of us, Danny Burns, Clare Grady, my sister, and Peter DeMott, my brother-in-law, and I went to our local Army and Marine recruiting center on the eve, just before Bush actually announced the 48-hour countdown to "Shock and Awe." And we brought with us about four ounces of our blood and went into just the vestibule of the Army and Marine recruiting center and poured it on the walls, which subsequently went on the flags and the posters, as well as some army cutouts of images of service people standing up there — very beautiful — and the blood was just pouring down their faces.

And then we knelt down and prayed and we read a statement, of which I’d like to just read one of the last paragraphs of it. After describing why we used our blood, and recognizing that it is a "fracture of good order," which comes from the Catonsville Nine statement from the 1960s of draft card burning, knowing that we come out of a history of nonviolent protests to war. One of the pieces that I’m particularly struck by, with respect to David’s statement about the officer who’s being convicted here, is, and this, I guess, just speaks to it: "We come here today with pictures of Iraqi people, mothers, children, those who have been the victims of U.S. bombardment and sanctions for the past 12 years. We come here with love in our hearts for the young U.S. service people, also victims of war-making, and recognizing that the systemic ill of war-making abuses our service people as much as it abuses the victims of our — you know, who we’re perpetrating our war against."

AMY GOODMAN: What were you convicted of?

TERESA GRADY: We were convicted of destruction of government property and, in fact, entering into a military site for unlawful purposes; both of which, in the federal court — in the state court, when we had a state trial, based on destruction of property, we had actually a hung jury, nine wanting to acquit; and that was based on our reasonable belief that international law compelled us as citizens to act to avert the great crimes of our government. And so nine of the jurors on the state trial actually understood that. Though they may not have agreed with our form of protest, they saw that there were legal parameters in which we were acting and found themselves having to vote for acquittal. That being said, our D.A. in the state court saw that he could not ever get a conviction in our county, and so he went to the federal prosecutor. And in February of ’05, we were summoned by the F.B.I. to show up in court in the federal court in Binghamton, New York.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So, you’re convicted in a federal court of a protest at a military office, and yet — and your folks get up to several months in jail; and yet, here we have a soldier convicted of homicide, and he is essentially free, although he’s got some house arrest. Your sense of what’s going on with our legal system these days, in terms of the military?

DAVID DANZIG: Well, you know, it’s difficult to compare the two cases. But it’s certainly —

AMY GOODMAN: Why? Why is it difficult? Isn’t it a perfect contrast?

DAVID DANZIG: It’s certainly — obviously, is a contrast, and I certainly have sympathy, and I certainly am concerned about what’s happening in the military courts. But I think, as in every case, there are obviously a lot of complicating factors that one needs to look at. In a perfect world, I would like to see a lot more attention being given to things that I think have real serious repercussions in the way in which we’re conducting the war, the way in which the United States is viewed in the world; and to me, that seems like we have to take Chief Welshofer’s case and others like it very seriously and not let them get away without being held accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: You talked about the chain of command in the case of Welshofer. Do you think that they laid off him? I mean, I understand at the end, when the sentence was announced, that he would not serve time in jail, that there was a applause among the military in the courtroom. Do you think part of the deal was that he was pointing the finger upward as his defense, and this was the quid pro quo?

DAVID DANZIG: Right. Well, it’s impossible to know what was in the jury’s minds. Military law prevents the jury from explaining their decision in any way. But, as an observer, my own subjective opinion, and I think it was shared by most of the people who were in the courtroom, is that that was one of the most compelling parts of his defense. That this was a soldier who had received instructions. For example, he received an instruction from a captain, who was detailed to a very senior commander in Iraq, that said, "Gentlemen, lives are being lost. It’s time to" — quote — "take the gloves off with the detainees." And the sense then, from the interrogators, if you’re someone out in the field, is that people are dying if you’re not aggressive with the people who you’re meant to interrogate.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And could you place this incident, in terms of the various scandals? When did this occur in Iraq? It was in Iraq that it occurred, right?


JUAN GONZALEZ: When did it occur, for instance, in comparison to the Abu Ghraib revelations or the other abuse revelations that have come out?

DAVID DANZIG: Right. This detainee, General Mowhoush, turned himself in to American authorities on November 10, 2003. He was dead on November 26, 2003, which in some way suggests that it was happening around the same time that Abu Ghraib was, but, obviously, we didn’t learn about Abu Ghraib until later.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And this would have been before Saddam Hussein had been captured, right, because I think he was captured around December of that year?

DAVID DANZIG: Sounds right.

AMY GOODMAN: So he turned himself in, and four days later he was dead?

DAVID DANZIG: Sixteen days later. Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Teresa Grady, we’re going to end with you. You face your sentence tomorrow. Did — the other people you protested with, are they already in jail?

TERESA GRADY: They are. And, actually, Peter’s sentence is eight months, so that would be considered the longest, and the judge was lenient with him because of family — illness in his family, and Peter happens to be the health proxy. And so, for that reason, he was lenient and gave four of those eight months in a facility that he could go in and out of.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s taking care of a family member who has cancer?

TERESA GRADY: Yes, his brother.

AMY GOODMAN: So, when you’re sentenced tomorrow, you will go directly to jail?


AMY GOODMAN: Is this worth it?

TERESA GRADY: It is absolutely worth it, Amy. I — We watched the film — it was about the invasion of Fallujah and the destruction of the city, and I was so moved to see how criminal the behavior is of our government, to think that this is okay to treat people’s lives this way. And, as I said to my sister as we were being arrested on that day of March 17, if this is the other side of the law from George Bush, then it’s the right side of the law. I just want to say that in terms of comparison between that — this trial with Chief Welshofer, I see that there’s consistency in that there’s the lack of information in the courts. The truth is not being told, and international law is not being upheld and applied to our own citizens, and this is a grave breach of our Constitution as we see in Article VI, Section 2.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Teresa Grady and David Danzig, we thank you very much for being with us. David Danzig of Human Rights First. Teresa Grady, one of the St. Patrick’s Four, who will most likely go to prison tomorrow.

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