- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

As we went to press, testimony was continuing in the military hearing for Lt.Col. Allen B. West, charged with aggravated assault and communicating a threat to an Iraqi detainee in order to force him to provide information about a planned attack on American troops.

On Wednesday, Col. West, testifying at the second day of the hearing in Tikrit to determine whether he will be court-martialed, gave his own account of the events of Aug. 20 at a detention center in Taji, Iraq, near Baghdad, which ended his military career and could send him to prison for taking action to save the lives of his troops.

Col. West testified that informants had provided U.S. forces with information about a plot to kill him and an unspecified number of the 700 soldiers he commanded. Col. West and interrogators under his command had been told that an Iraqi policeman was involved in the plot. But, after being arrested and interrogated, the suspect asserted that he knew nothing about a planned attack.

Believing his men to be in mortal danger, Col. West testified that he took the suspect to a sandbox, held his head down and fired one shot in the air and another in the sandbox. At that point, the suspect gave in and provided the information. The planned attack never took place.

Two things can be said Col. West’s interrogation methods: First, he has already been punished in this case. As a result of this incident, Col. West has been relieved of his command, and his military career is over. Second (and much more importantly), it is no stretch at all to say that Col. West’s action may well have saved the lives of hundreds of American troops under his command. “I felt there was a threat to my soldiers,” he said on the stand.”If it’s about the life of my men, I’d go through hell with a gasoline can.”

We submit that, at this stage in the proceedings, the military needs to take a hard look at itself and what it hopes to achieve by going forward with this case. Last month, a military prosecutor tried to force Col.West to choose between resigning immediately and forfeiting retirement benefits, or facing criminal proceedings that could lead to imprisonment. Were he to have buckled to this ultimatum and resigned early,he would have lost more than $1 million in pay and retirement benefits.Given the fact that his wife is a cancer survivor, Col. West would have found it prohibitive to obtain medical insurance for his family.

We understand the need to have rules of engagement in times of warfare; no less important, however, is the need for commonsense use of prosecutorial discretion in dealing with actions that take place in the heat of combat.It is immoral to send good men like Col. West into harm’s way and then persecute them for going the extra mile to ensure the safety of the men and women under their command.

Fortunately, there is something that the public can do to make it clear to our national leaders that its time to end the West prosecution: They can contact their Senators and members of the House of Representatives, and write or e-mail Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee urging that proceedings be halted at once.

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