As reported in the L.A. Times, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr., 43, was convicted in the negligent homicide of an Iraqi general under questioning in Iraq.
According to the report,
Witnesses testified that Welshofer stood by while Iraqi nationals, reportedly in the employ of the CIA, beat the general for about 30 minutes with rubber hoses. The next day, Welshofer took the general to the roof of the prison and, while other soldiers held him down, poured water on his face.
The general did not answer questions, so the following morning Welshofer turned to what was dubbed "the sleeping bag technique."
[H]e he put Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush face-first in a sleeping bag, wrapped him in electrical wire and sat on his chest in November 2003. The 57-year-old general died after 20 minutes in the bag.
For this, Welshofer was sentenced to a loss of $6,000 salary, confined to base for 60 days, and a reprimand. The money can be easily made up by donations from those who celebrate this type of behavior.
In summary, the U.S. Military could have just hung a sign from the Statue of Liberty saying, "Torture Unto Death Welcome Here."
There are several elements in this case that show such a depth of moral depravity that Americans once condemned in the harshest possible terms. Now, we have become a country that embraces these techniques and applaud those who perform them.
Our moral compass is not only off, it is completely broken.
Among the claims made in defense of Welshover is that he thought he was following orders in using creative questioning techniques. The sleeping bag technique was approved by his superior officer.
The Nuremburg Trials, which put German soldiers on trial for war crimes, completely repudiated the idea that a soldier could claim innocence based on the fact that "I was just following orders." Beyond this, we can distinguish between the case in which a person reluctantly followed a command he was given, and a soldier who went to a superior officer with a plan seeking approval. This instance went so far beyond an example of "I was just following orders that it does not even deserve a mention.
Defense lawyer Frank Spinner also said in favor of his client, "...you've got to give them room to make mistakes and not treat them like criminals,"
Perhaps we should apply this same principle to drunk drivers and those who go around waving guns at people.
We can recognize the need for a different set of standards in the heat of battle. Even with the death of civilians in Pakistan, I would not call for any formal charges to be filed unless an investigation showed that somebody was grossly irresponsible in selecting this particular target.
However, we are talking here about an unarmed man in custody.
I have argued before that one of the fundamental principles of morality concerns its universalizability. What we do to others, we tell to others that it is permissible for them to do.
In evaluating the behavior of Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer, one question we should be asking is, "What would our reaction be to news of somebody doing this to a captured American officer?"
Would we consider a $6,000 fine to be sufficient?
Or would we consider this to be evidence that we are fighting an opponent that is truly evil, that has no respect for life, and one that deserves to be defeated?
Seriously, now. Assume that we learned of the death of an American soldier under exactly these same conditions. Would we consider people who would do such a thing to be good or evil?
That which we embrace, we encourage in others. That which we embrace we tell the world, 'This is good. This is how things should be.'