Lt. Col. Allen West admitted during an emotional preliminary hearing today he used wrong methods to extract information from an Iraqi detainee but insisted American lives were at stake.
Lt. Col. Allen B. West in undated family photo (Courtesy Angela West)
Accused of threatening to kill the Iraqi if he didn’t disclose details of an imminent plot against U.S. soldiers, West was asked by his defense attorney if he would do it again.
“If it’s about the lives of my men and their safety, I’d go through hell with a gasoline can,” he said, according to Reuters.
“But that’s what’s going on out there in the streets here, and that’s how I feel about my boys,” he told the hearing, held in Saddam Hussein’s hometown Tikrit. “There is not a person in this room I would not sacrifice my life for.”
West, his voice breaking with emotion, said he had told the families of the men and women in his 4th Infantry battalion before leaving for Iraq he would bring them home alive.
“I know the method I used was not the right method,” he said. “I was going to do anything to intimidate and scare him, but I was not going to endanger his life.”
Yesterday, West’s attorney argued the officer should not be court martialed.
“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, West 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 preliminary hearing, which began yesterday, is taking place at a military base set up inside a complex of opulent palaces established in Tikrit by Saddam. The hearing room, lit by chandeliers, has marble floors and walls.
When the hearing is complete, possibly today or tomorrow, 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.
West said he watched without intervening as his men beat Hamoody, who had information, the troops believed, about plots to attack them.
Other officers testifying at the hearing said the plots included an imminent plan to kill West, Reuters reported.
When Hamoody refused to reveal information, West said he took the policeman outside and forced him over a sandbox used by soldiers to clear their weapons.
“I placed my left hand against the side of his head and fired away from him,” West said, according to Reuters.
As a result, Hamoody revealed plans to establish a sniper position near a police station visited by West’s soldiers.
Yesterday, a witness, Pvt. Michael Johnson, said he and other soldiers “weren’t hitting him as hard as we possibly could.”
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.
After West fired the pistol near Hamoody’s head, into the sandbox, the policeman was scared, he was really scared,” Johnson said.
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.
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.