- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

With the clock ticking toward a scheduled Nov. 10 investigative hearing for Lt. Col. Allen B. West — on charges of mistreating an Iraqi prisoner in a successful effort to thwart a guerrilla attack on U.S. troops — it’s time for the military to rethink the ill-considered decision to go forward with his prosecution.

Col. West said last week that his soldiers faced almost daily attacks as they worked to impose security near Tikrit, a stronghold of Saddam Hussein supporters. In August, an informant told soldiers in Col. West’s unit that there was an assassination plot against him and that one of the plotters was an Iraqi policeman. The policeman was brought in for questioning. Initially, he failed to provide any information.

That changed after Col. West entered the picture. He took the detainee outside and fired a 9 mm pistol twice to scare him into talking. The prisoner then provided the names of two accomplices and told of another sniper attack planned for the following day. Col. West admits that he made a mistake by discharging his weapon during an interrogation session. But he emphasizes that, following the interrogation, there were no more attacks from that town. In short, his actions very likely saved the lives of many American soldiers.

Col. West was relieved of his battalion command, effectively ending his military career. Then a military prosecutor offered him an ultimatum: Resign immediately and forfeit retirement benefits, or face criminal proceedings that could lead to a trial and prison term.

Were he to have quit the military before last Saturday, when he became eligible to retire, Col. West would have lost more than $1 million in pay and health benefits over his life expectancy. His wife is a cancer survivor, something which would have made the cost of obtaining medical insurance prohibitive.

The rules of engagement are proper in times of warfare. But there’s also an important place for prosecutorial discretion in dealing with certain actions that occur in the heat of combat. Anyone who has talked to their father or grandfather about service in World War II or World War I at some length realizes that these conflicts were not waged with strict adherence to the Marquis of Queensbury rules. It’s wrong to send men like Col. West into battle in a violent place like Iraq, then destroy their lives and humiliate them for taking action to protect their men. The charges against Col. West should be dropped, and he should be honorably discharged with full pay and benefits.

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