Supporters of a U.S. officer who believes his extremely aggressive interrogation tactics helped foil a deadly attack by Saddam loyalists are using “Clintonesque” arguments to defend him, asserts a manager of President Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.
Former Republican Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia told WorldNetDaily he believes Lt. Col. Allen West’s actions should not be considered “heroic,” a description offered freely by the officer’s many military and citizen backers.
Lt. Col. Allen B. West, left, is greeted during a change-of-command ceremony in June. (Courtesy Washington Times)
“It may be an interrogation technique that worked in this instance, but that’s not an heroic act,” Barr told WorldNetDaily. “This man apparently has a very distinguished military career and much of what he’s done may be heroic, but I don’t think this is an heroic act.”
As WorldNetDaily reported, under threat of an attack, West took charge of the interrogation of an Iraqi policeman, 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 probable foiling of a deadly attack.
West says he was the target of an assassination plot and members of his unit had been attacked by guerillas linked to the policeman.
But 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 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.
A pretrial hearing to determine whether he should be court martialed got under way in Tikrit yesterday and is expected to conclude today after West testifies in his defense.
Barr contends justifying West’s actions would set a bad precedent.
“I do not believe we ought to as a nation take the step for the very first time of condoning these sorts of interrogation techniques,” he said. “The hallmark of American life has always been we set a higher standard. We don’t operate the way our enemies do, and I don’t see anything here that would lead me to believe that we ought to go down that slippery slope now after two and a quarter centuries of operating in another way.”
In an interview with WorldNetDaily, West’s attorney, retired Marine Corps Lt.
Col. Neal Puckett, said 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.
Many WorldNetDaily readers expressed similar sentiments.
“I can’t believe they are even thinking about pressing charges against Col. West. To me and many Americans he is considered a hero,” one wrote.
In an e-mail to WND, West himself downplayed that notion, calling his soldiers the “true heroes” and stating: “I made a decision, and it has consequences and I accept that.”
He stated further, “However, I can look at myself in the mirror and know that my men are well.”
Before departing for Iraq Thursday, Puckett insisted it was not a foregone conclusion West violated the military code, emphasizing the threat was conditional.
“When you offer somebody a choice, that’s very different from a threat that says, ‘I’m going to kill you,’” Puckett said.
The circumstances under which it happened need to be taken into consideration, he asserted, noting there was a gradual escalation of pressure in the interrogation, a “step-by-step process in which he tried everything else.”
Barr said that while the circumstances obviously need to be considered in every case, it would be wrong to use them to excuse West’s actions.
“That’s kind of a Clintonesque argument,” he said. “When we had Clinton up before us on the impeachment charges, his lawyers argued everything needs to be put in context and that’s a justification for a person doing whatever it is that they feel is justified at the moment.”
Every war or conflict can be seen as unique, he said, but “that shouldn’t mean that we just throw the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Protocol out the window.”
West’s 4th Infantry battalion is trying to help establish peace in the “Sunni Triangle” where Saddam loyalists and jihad fighters who blend in with the populace are continually plotting guerilla attacks against American targets.
“If in fact we are putting our soldiers in an untenable situation, that’s a policy decision that our commander-in-chief has already made,” said Barr. “And if in fact adjustments need to be made, then he’s the one that needs to make them, but I don’t think it means ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
Puckett believes West already has been taken to task for what he did.
“He lost his job,” the attorney said. “When an officer is relieved of his command, he will never advance. The message has gone out that this is not a behavior we’re going to condone. That should be the end.”
When West requested retirement, Puckett said, they told him “No, you’re going to have to face trial or lose your benefits.’”
Puckett said when an officer, such as West, is in his 19th year of service, he can put in a request for retirement any time during that final year. West made the offer two weeks shy of his 20 years, Nov. 1, Puckett added, “and they said, ‘No, that’s out of the question.”
Due his day in court
A spokesman for the Army at the Pentagon, Major Steve Stover, said he could not comment on the case.
“We don’t want any undue command influence,” he said. “When you take a look at this case, that soldier is due his day in court. He’s innocent until proven guilty. We usually push questions down to the unit level.”
Capt. Jefferson Wolfe, a spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit, said he could not respond to questions submitted by WND.
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.
However, a 30-year Army veteran, who served in Vietnam and held several posts as a public affairs specialist, said he thinks the military justice system should be allowed to take its course.
“As horrible as combat and war may be,” strict adherence to standards “are absolutely vital to good order and discipline, and the officers appointed over the enlisted soldiers carry a higher responsibility to ensure they are enforced,” said Sonny Craven, who retired with the rank of colonel.
“The American public must have absolute confidence that our Army is moral and trustworthy, and not armed thugs or killers, who unlike the Iraqi enemy, rape, torture, abuse and even kill their enemy captured,” Craven said.
The combat zone context cannot be fairly “analyzed” from the safety of an American living room, he noted.
Craven allowed that there certainly are mitigating circumstances to consider, but argued a court-martial process is West’s right to a fair trial.
“To spare him from the indignity of such a trial, the Army offered administrative alternatives,” he pointed out. “But it is clear, there are few conditions in which prisoner abuse or torture can be condoned or justified, and especially by a senior officer of a unit who must set the example and in whom the Army reposes a higher responsibility to strictly follow the Rules of Engagement.”
Recalling the My Lai massacre under the command of Lt. William Calley during the Vietnam war, he said “one-sided publicity for the underdog who may have operated under tough and demanding conditions seems to always play out in the media before all the facts are known.”
“That why the military has courts,” he said. “It is the constitutional guarantee that Lt. Col. West’s fate isn’t determined by a possibly prejudiced local commander but, instead, he is afforded his right to face his accuser, have witnesses called in his defense, defended by both an Army appointed defense counsel and a civilian lawyer, allowed to cross-examine witness for the prosecution, and permitted to offer into evidence his own facts. The reasonable doubt standard must be met.”
Craven said, “Given the exigencies of this war, the stakes involved in protecting his troops and his own life, I am optimistic the Army judicial process will act fairly and responsibly.”
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.
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.