Last week, Lt. Col. Allen B. West, U.S. Army, was indicted on criminal assault charges for the psychological intimidation tactic he used to acquire vital intelligence from a captured enemy combatant in Iraq -- intelligence that indicated American soldiers were facing imminent ambush.
The Army filed the charges against Col. West, a distinguished American officer, 20-year veteran and commander of an artillery battalion of the 4th Infantry Division stationed in northern Iraq near Saddam Hussein's loyalist stronghold of Tikrit, after the colonel twice fired his sidearm in the interrogation of an enemy prisoner. The prisoner, an Iraqi police officer, was taken into custody following the discovery of his association with those involved in a series of terrorist attacks against U.S. forces in Saba al Boor, near Tikrit. Col. West's interrogation -- taken as a last resort -- coerced information of an imminent attack against soldiers under his command. Highlighting the intensity of the situation in Tikrit and Saba al Boor, Col. West's troops come under almost daily assault from enemy guerillas -- Ba'ath sympathizers loyal to Saddam Hussein and Islamist terrorists fighting any western presence -- and threats of assassination have been made against Col. West personally.
Following the August 16 interrogation, Col. West informed his superiors of his actions. No punitive action was taken against Col. West until the incident turned up in a routine command-climate investigation of the brigade some time later. Only then were charges brought against the colonel, who now faces an Article 32 hearing scheduled for November 10 in Kirkuk, which could result in his court martial. The 4th Infantry's divisional judge advocate initially offered West the option to resign his commission and forfeit his retirement benefits (one week short of his 20-year retirement eligibility) or face a general court martial. West refused to resign, instead offering to retire at a lower rank with benefits, which the Army promptly rejected. Now the judge advocate says he will pursue West's court martial on the charge of aggravated assault, which could result in his dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pension and benefits, and a maximum of eight years in prison.
Apart from his prosecution, Col. West's so-called "criminal assault" produced other, more constructive results: "There were no further attacks from that town," notes the colonel. "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."
Article 128 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice describes criminal assault in these terms: "Any person subject to this chapter who attempts or offers with unlawful force or violence to do bodily harm to another person, whether or not the attempt or offer is consummated, is guilty of assault and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." The Army's judge advocate interprets West's actions to be in violation of this restriction. While the military is successfully adapting its capabilities to meet the challenges of asymmetric, anti-terrorist warfare, a paradigm shift in how the military expects its officers to carry out such a war seems to be in order.
Patriot Petitions asks the same question, and calls on fellow Patriots to come to the aid of Col. West and all line officers charged to prosecute our nation's ongoing war against Islamic terrorism and its state sponsors. How can we expect our frontline officers to fight wars the Bush administration calls "preemptive" if they are not given the latitude to respond -- preemptively -- to the asymmetric threats of terrorist aggressors? Would the deaths of American soldiers in the ambush Col. West thwarted at Saba al Boor have constituted a more acceptable result for the Army's judge advocate?
Please sign the petition to exonerate Col. West from this grossly misguided criminal prosecution.
Update and Resolution: After hundreds of thousands of signatures were delivered to the Commander in Chief, Congressional leaders and the Secretary of defense, 95 members of the Congress singed a letter supporting West, appealing to the Secretary of the Army in his defense. Consequently, West's charges were referred for an Article 15 proceeding rather than court-martial, and he was able to retire with full honor and benefits in 2004. Asked in that proceeding if he would act differently in hindsight, West testified, "If it's about the lives of my soldiers at stake, I'd go through hell with a gasoline can."