An officer in Iraq who used shock interrogation tactics to thwart an impending attack on American soldiers will not face a court martial, according to his lawyer.
Lt. Col. Allen B. West will accept Article 15 non-judicial punishment from the commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division at a hearing Friday in Tikrit, Iraq, said Neal A. Puckett, a retired Marine officer.
Lt. Col. Allen B. West in undated family photo (Courtesy Angela West)
Puckett said in an e-mail, Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno will conduct the hearing and decide whether West is guilty of aggravated assault.
The commanding officer has discretion to accept or reject the recommendation of administrative punishment from the officer who presided over West’s preliminary hearing in Tikrit last month, Lt. Col. Jimmy Davis. But Puckett said all indications are that West will not be court martialed.
At his preliminary hearing, West acknowledged he allowed two soldiers to beat an Iraqi policeman who refused to reveal details of an ambush plot and fired his pistol near the man’s head, threatening to kill him.
If found guilty, the punishment could include a letter of reprimand and perhaps some forfeiture of his pay, Puckett said.
That punishment would be recorded in his official military record, but does not amount to a federal conviction, the lawyer emphasized, which can only be adjudged by a court martial.
“We presume that he will be ordered back to Ft. Hood [Texas] thereafter, but a timeline for his return has been neither established nor promised by the Army,” Puckett said. “All indications are that Lt. Col. West will not be ordered to face trial by general court martial, and will be allowed to retire in the grade of lieutenant colonel sometime in the spring of 2004.”
Last month, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee appealed to the acting secretary of the Army to intervene on West’s behalf. In a letter, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and a senior member of his committee, Rep. John H. McHugh, R-N.Y., said they were “highly disturbed” the Army was considering criminal action against 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.
The scared policeman then immediately disclosed the information, leading to the arrest of two Iraqis last August and cessation of attacks on West’s 4th Infantry Division battalion.
At the hearing last month, 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.
“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 one of Saddam Hussein’s lavish palaces. “There is not a person in this room I would not sacrifice my life for.”
But Army prosecutors believe his actions in the town of Saba al Boor, near Tikrit, violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He has been charged with aggravated assault and has faced 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 within days of his 20 years of service, losing retirement benefits. West chose to face the charges and place his fate in the hands of Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno.
Hunter and McHugh contended West’s actions “were necessary to protect the lives and safety of his men” and were reported immediately to his superiors.
“To us, such actions if accurately reported do not appear to be those of a criminal,” they said in the letter to Acting Secretary Les Brownlee.
The lawmakers asked Brownlee to “expeditiously provide us” with the investigation reports that led the division’s commanding general to start the proceedings that could lead to a court martial for West.
They also asked Brownlee to “closely examine this matter and provide us with your assessment of facts and circumstances.”
Inhofe told Brownlee, who was appearing before the panel, it would send the wrong signal “if we end up punishing someone for saving men in his command. … He should be commended.”
Warner, noting West’s reputation as a respected combat leader, said he would “have a high level of concern” about possible criminal charges against West.
The Congress members have no official power over a potential military criminal case but carry weight because of their hold on the Army’s budget and weapons programs.
West and Puckett are at a Forward Operating Base near Tikrit. In a statement provided to WorldNetDaily, Puckett noted several witnesses at the hearing testified about West’s high-profile role in civil military operations.
West was helping Iraqis rebuild their towns, re-establish public services and utilities and begin the transformation to a democratic process for governance, Puckett said.
The officer spoke often in front of community leaders and sheiks at meetings in the town of Saba al Boor “and earned their trust by delivering the assistance he promised.”
“In return,” said Puckett, “the sheiks told an interpreter that they were protecting the Americans from attacks because of their respect for and trust in Lt. Col. West.”
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.
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