An attorney for a U.S. officer in Iraq accused of using extreme interrogation tactics to prevent a guerrilla attack argued in a preliminary hearing today his client was acting in self-defense.

“He doesn’t deny doing what is alleged in the charges, but we as a defense team deny the criminality of the charges,” said lawyer Neal Puckett, according to Reuters. “Given the circumstances, he hasn’t committed any crimes.”

Lt. Col. Allen B. West and wife, Angela, in undated family photo (Courtesy Angela West)

As WorldNetDaily reported, under threat of an attack, Lt. Col. Allen B. West of the 4th Infantry Division took charge of the interrogation of an Iraqi policeman, Yahya Jhodri Hamoody, determined to flush out details 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 possible foiling of a deadly attack.

West claims he was the target of an assassination plot, and members of his unit had been attacked by guerrillas linked to the policeman. But Army prosecutors believe his actions on Aug. 21 in the town of Saba al Boor, near Tikrit, violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He has been charged with aggravated assault and 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 one week ago. 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.

The two-day hearing is taking place at a military base set up inside a complex of opulent palaces established in Tikrit by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The hearing room, lit by chandeliers, has marble floors and walls.

When the hearing is complete, the presiding officer will assess whether there is sufficient evidence for a court martial. The 4th Infantry’s top officer, Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, will then decide how to handle the case. He can choose not to proceed with a court martial even if the presiding officer thinks it’s warranted.

The Army issued a statement on West’s case, charging West beat Hamoody around the head and body.

A witness, Pvt. Michael Johnson, said he and other soldiers beat Hamoody during the interrogation, but he did not say West struck the Iraqi policeman, Reuters reported.

“We weren’t hitting him as hard as we possibly could,” said Johnson, who was West’s driver.

The private, when asked to describe the policeman’s reaction, said, according to the news wire, “He was curling up in a ball.”

Intelligence information indicated Hamoody was involved in plots to attack U.S. troops, several soldiers testified, although one sergeant said there was no evidence of it.

Johnson, recalling the incident in question, said the policeman was taken outside after interrogators were unable to get him to talk.

Hamoody still would not cooperate and was forced to put his head down above a sand-filled container used to clear ammunition from weapons, Johnson said, according to Reuters. Then West fired the pistol near Hamoody’s head, into the box.

“He was scared, he was really scared,” Johnson said of the policeman.

West is expected to give testimony tomorrow.

Before leaving for Iraq, West’s attorney, Puckett, told WND he had 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.

West said in an e-mail to the Washington Times, “I have never denied what happened and have always been brutally honest.”

“I accept responsibility for the episode, but my intent was to scare this individual and keep my soldiers out of a potential ambush,” he continued. “There were no further attacks from that town. We further apprehended two other conspirators (a third fled town) and found out one of the conspirators was the father of a man we had detained for his Saddam Fedeyeen affiliation.”

West said Hamoody “and his accomplices were a threat to our soldiers and the method was not right, but why should I lose 20 years of service or be forced into prison for protecting my men?”

Puckett said if citizens want to express their view, 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.

West can be contacted by e-mail and his wife has her own e-mail address.

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.

Previous stories:

‘Heroic’ officer clings to faith

Americans rally behind officer who foiled plot

Officer fights charges after protecting troops

Prison for officer’s effort to foil attack?

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