A U.S. Army officer facing assault charges for frightening an Iraqi into disclosing details of an impending ambush plot says his faith in God has kept him from falling apart amid the severe pain it has caused him and his family.
Lt. Col. Allen B. West and wife, Angela, in undated family photo (Courtesy Angela West)
“Without God and my Savior Jesus Christ, I would have cracked a long time ago,” Lt. Col. Allen B. West, a battalion commander with the 4th Infantry Division, said in an e-mail to WorldNetDaily this morning.
“It is devastating to my family to think that I am being considered a criminal and possibly to be imprisoned,” he told WND. “That is an attack on the family unit. What hurts us even more was the ultimatum of resignation without any benefits for 20 years of service. It would be as though we never existed to the Army and my service meant nothing.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, under threat of an attack, West took charge of the interrogation of an Iraqi policeman, determined to flush out information as he warned subordinates “it could get ugly.” Threatening to kill the Iraqi if he didn’t talk, West fired a pistol near the policeman’s head, prompting a flow of information that led to arrests and the probable foiling of a deadly attack.
Army prosecutors believe West’s actions on Aug. 21 in the town of Saba al Boor, near Tikrit, violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He faces a wide range of possible outcomes from no disciplinary action to a sentence of up to eight years in prison.
The prosecutors gave West a choice – face charges or resign early, losing retirement benefits. The 19-year veteran was scheduled to reach his 20-year retirement last Saturday.
West chose to face the charges, but already he has been relieved of his position, effectively ending a decorated military career that included a bronze star and another medal for valor in combat.
In an interview with WorldNetDaily yesterday, West’s attorney, retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Neal Puckett, said he’s received about 100 e-mails in support of his client, some from veterans who served in Korea and Vietnam.
“Nearly everyone says this guy is an American hero who should be commended rather than court martialed,” Puckett said.
Lt. Col. Allen B. West, left, is greeted during a change-of-command ceremony in June. (Courtesy Washington Times)
Many WorldNetDaily readers have expressed similar sentiments today.
One wrote, “Here we are fighting a vicious war with an enemy who could care less how many Americans die. The more the better. An enemy hell bent on killing Americans and sending them home in coffins with the hope that the people of the United States will cry out for their dead and for our government to put a hasty end to the raging battle in Iraqi. The enemy is playing us like a fiddle, our men and women die, and along comes Lt. Col. West fighting fire with fire and now they are going to court martial him and take away his pension?”
A U.S. Air Force captain asked: “Since when do the ‘feelings’ of combatants who are planning/have knowledge of plans to kill American troops matter more than the lives of those troops?”
Writing from Antarctica, a reader said, “I can’t believe they are even thinking about pressing charges against Col. West. To me and many Americans he is considered a hero.”
In his e-mail to WND, however, West downplayed that notion.
“I am but now a relieved battalion commander and not a hero,” he said. “My soldiers are the true heroes! We must do this, preserve American life. I made a decision and it has consequences and accept that. However, I can look at myself in the mirror and know that my men are well. My regret and sorrow is that I failed because I was supposed to be on that flight to bring them home.”
‘Valley of humiliation’
West told WND that during his ordeal “God has revealed to me much Scripture,” including Bible passages from Joshua chapter one, the book of Job, the Psalms of David and particularly Jeremiah 29:11-13.
“God has taken me down into a valley of humiliation to strengthen and build my faith and has a great work for me,” he said. “My goal now is to retire and teach high school and continue to make a difference in the development of our young people. Whenever I do return home it will be a testament to God and I will give Him all praise, honor, and glory. I may be cast down but not conquered. John 16:33 sums it all up!”
Puckett said West’s two daughters, who are with his wife, Angela, in Fort Hood, Texas, are sharing some of the humiliation.
Since parents at the girls’ school caught wind of the news “Mr. West is in trouble,” the daughters are enduring taunts from classmates.
One of the daughters has started giving out a false last name to avoid kids making fun of her.
“The girls have been taught their daddy is a hero,” Puckett said. “But now kids are coming up to them and saying, ‘Your daddy is no hero.'”
Puckett plans to depart for Iraq Friday where he will participate in an Article 32 investigation – a procedure allowing him to present evidence supporting his argument charges should be dropped. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 10, but Puckett has requested it be moved to Nov. 12 because he was appointed to the case late in the process.
Each individual command runs its own military justice system, he explained. After hearing the evidence and determining whether there is probable cause, the presiding colonel will make a recommendation to division commander Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who has the authority to implement the recommendation or do something completely different.
The options range from doing nothing to a general court martial, which is a felony prosecution.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has the power to intervene on West’s behalf, “but he wouldn’t normally do that,” said Puckett.
More appropriate, he says, would be action by Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee.
“This all could be short-circuited by the secretary of the Army saying, ‘Somebody get me [West’s] retirement request and I will process it through right now,'” Puckett said.
Spokesmen at the Pentagon and the Army’s 4th Infantry at Fort Hood said they could not comment on a pending case.
The Army is concerned about what it should do to dissuade others from transgressing, Puckett acknowledged.
But he insists it’s not entirely clear West did anything wrong.
“We could have a spirited debate about whether he transgressed at all,” Puckett said. “Is firing a pistol near [the Iraqi’s] head, but not at him, aggravated assault? I don’t know. He didn’t kill anyone. He didn’t torture anyone.”
Puckett acknowledged West “certainly used a psychological ploy.”
“The fact is,” the attorney said, “two trained interrogators, both female, worked with [the Iraqi policeman] for hours and hours, and he wouldn’t talk, so they called their commander.”
West strode into the room, according to Puckett, and said to the Iraqi, “If you don’t give us this information, I’m going to kill you.”
The policeman, “as a demonstration of his seriousness,” responded to West with a smile and said, “I love you.”
West then took the Iraqi outside and, with the help of colleagues, forced his head down. With one hand on the man’s head – to provide protection – and the other holding the pistol, West fired into a weapons-clearing barrel filled with sand.
“There was an immediate outpouring of information,” Puckett said. The man told my client everything he wanted to know.”
That same evening, West made a full report to his superior and did not hear anything for many weeks.
Puckett believes U.S. forces in an intense battle in the Sunni Triangle near Tikrit with Saddam Hussein loyalists need special consideration to help ensure their success.
“Maybe we should propose interrogating a little more aggressively, as long as we don’t hurt anybody,” he said.
In July, he noted, another officer in the 4th Infantry reportedly used unorthodox methods to persuade an Iraqi general to turn himself in. According to the Washington Post, Col. David Hogg ordered the Iraqi officer’s family be rounded up and held hostage. Hogg then sent word to the general that if he wanted to see his family again, he needed to comply.
The tactic worked, and the Iraqi general appeared in front of the U.S. base and surrendered. Puckett said there is a report that Hogg has been promoted.
“Here we have a guy using what might be considered by touchy feely types to be a questionable tactic,” Puckett said. “But, in the same way, my client never intended to carry out the threat.”
In such situations, time is of the essence, he argues.
“The sooner he gets the information, the better the chance to foil the ambush,” he said of West. “Nobody can prove what would have happened had he not done that.”
Puckett said if citizens want to get involved, they can contact their Congress members in the House of Representatives and the Senate or the Army. An e-mail to the Defense Department can be sent via this page by clicking the “Ask a question/Make a comment” tab at the top of the page.
Angela West has set up a legal fund for her husband with the following address: Allen West Defense Fund c/o Angela West, 6823 Coleman Drive, Ft. Hood, TX 76544.
Puckett said he welcomes communication with any experts in military law who might have ideas or information to pass on.