- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday he has the power to intervene in the assault case of a lieutenant colonel, but gave no sign whether he would stop the Army from court-martialing the officer.

The Army in Iraq charged Lt. Col. Allen B. West with criminal assault for threatening a suspected Iraqi guerrilla supporter to learn information on pending attacks against soldiers in a small town north of Tikrit.

Col. West’s attorney, Neal A. Puckett, rejected an offer from the 4th Infantry Division’s staff judge advocate for Col. West to quit without retirement benefits to escape court-martial proceedings.

Brit Hume of “Fox News Sunday” asked Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday whether he has the authority to step in now and “short-circuit” the case.

“They tell me that’s the case,” Mr. Rumsfeld answered.

When asked by show host Tony Snow to comment on the Army’s decision to charge Col. West, the defense secretary demurred.

“It’s a matter that the Army is looking into,” he said. “It is not a matter that the Office of the Secretary of Defense has been engaged in. I am always under strict rules to not discuss particular cases because of the subject. They call it command influence — the risk that by responding to questions like yours and being in the chain of command ultimately someone, somehow, that issue could come on my desk for some sort of a judgment.”

Mr. Hume persisted. “When you see this guy about to be disciplined for being stern and tough and scary in interrogating some Iraqi suspect, how does that strike you personally, just as a general matter?”

“I can’t discuss this as a general matter, and I can’t discuss what I think personally, or I’d be happy to, because to do so, it would be to mishandle my responsibilities as secretary of defense,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “The Army has rules and requirements and regulations. The Army is addressing this. It will move along in its normal order. And at some point, it could conceivably come to me, in which case I shouldn’t say how I feel personally.”

Mr. Puckett said yesterday that Col. West formally has submitted a request to retire. His 20 years of service were completed Saturday.

Mr. Puckett said Mr. Rumsfeld has the power to urge acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee to approve Col. West’s retirement. Such approval would not prevent the Army from punishing Col. West through nonjudicial proceedings before Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the 4th ID commander.

Col. West, who was removed from his battalion command after the Aug. 21 incident, said he is willing to retire at the reduced rank of major to protect his pension and medical benefits.

But at this point, Mr. Puckett said, the staff judge advocate is pursuing a court-martial. A pretrial hearing is scheduled Nov. 10 in Kirkuk.

The West case has stirred strong emotions among military advocates as American troops battle a deadly guerrilla force in Iraq.

They complain that the Army is throwing the book at an officer who acted to protect his soldiers against terrorists. Col. West, 42, could receive an eight-year prison sentence if convicted at a court martial.

The Washington Times contacted Col. West last week and he provided a narrative via e-mail of his actions in August. He said an informant told him that a town policeman was involved in attacks on American soldiers and that he knew of pending ambushes.

Frustrated with the Iraqi’s refusal to talk, Col. West said he fired his 9 mm pistol twice to scare the Iraqi into thinking he would kill him if he didn’t talk. Col. West said the detainee then provided information on a planned attack and the names of accomplices.

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