Where is the Line?
Vol: 25 Issue: 31 Friday, October 31, 2003
An Army Lt. Col. was given an opportunity to resign from the Army — one day before his retirement — or face court martial and a possible twelve years in prison. If he quit, Lt. Col. Allen West, 42, would lose more than $1 million in pay and health benefits over his life expectancy. His wife is a cancer survivor, his lawyer says, meaning medical insurance will be extremely costly.
His attorney said Col. West may consider accepting “nonjudicial punishment” at an Article 15 hearing before the division’s commander, Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno. This procedure would allow the officer to retire with benefits.
What did Col. West do to deserve losing a future he spent twenty years securing? He threatened an Iraqi detainee in order to get information that prevented a guerrilla attack against US forces.
Col West explained his side of the story in an email to the Washington Times. According to the Times, West was working as a liaison with the town council of Saba al Boor. His unit learned through an informant of impending attacks.
The next day, some of his soldiers were attacked on a road leading to the town. The informant said an Iraqi police officer was involved. Col. West had the policeman detained.
When two interrogators failed to gain any information, Col. West went to the detention center, brought the detainee outside and fired his 9 mm pistol twice to scare him into talking.
Col. West said the detainee then provided the names of two accomplices and told of another planned sniper attack the next day.
“I have never denied what happened and have always been brutally honest,” said Col. West. “I accept responsibility for the episode, but my intent was to scare this individual and keep my soldiers out of a potential ambush. There were no further attacks from that town. 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.
“[The Iraqi policeman] and his accomplices were a threat to our soldiers and the method was not right, but why should I lose 20 years of service or be forced into prison for protecting my men?”
In essence, Col West is being charged with torture. He didn’t actually shoot the Iraqi, but, since the suspect gave up his accomplices, it is safe to assume Col West convinced the Iraqi that he would.
This week, the Pentagon released a videotape of what it was like to be ‘interrogated’ back when Saddam was still in power. Even after it was sanitized for television, it was impossible to watch — at least for me.
The tape showed Saddam’s henchmen pulling out and snipping off a guy’s tongue. Teams of Iraqis hurled screaming, flailing victims from the roof of a three story building. A blindfolded Iraqi laid his hand on a cement block as instructed.
He didn’t see the 12 lb sledgehammer that crushed it, but he felt it. Another Iraqi had his hand hacked off; others lost fingers. Two others were wrapped in demolition cord and blown to pieces.
That was just the ‘sanitized’ version shown in clips on news broadcasts.
Col. West was trying to obtain information that from the kind of man to whom the events shown on the tape were routine.
The Iraqi KNEW what his associates were capable of doing to him if he turned them in. The only way he would tell Col. West was if the Iraqi was more scared of West than he was of the guys who made that tape.
Lt. Col. West evidently scared the suspect sufficiently. Nobody died in the incident. The ambush was averted and a planned sniper attack never took place.
Said Elaine Donnelly, head of the Center for Military Readiness: “Excuse me while I go to look up Marquis of Queensberry. No wonder we haven’t gotten any information on Hussein’s present location from all of those ‘deck of cards’ people we have captured. Has the Army lost its institutional mind? Or maybe they have forgotten that a state of war exists in Iraq.”
Col. West violated the letter of the law but he saved the lives of his men. But the case brings up a number of questions. If the US could have prevented the September 11 attacks by using Col. West’s tactics, should it?
If the government knew that the information it was after could prevent another 9/11, how far should we go to get that information?
The gentle methods of interrogation employed by civilized societies won’t shake loose information from people used to seeing people’s tongues cut out and hands hacked off.
Nobody really knows how far we would be willing to go to prevent another September 11. One would assume that it would be further than Col. West went.
If not, we’re doomed.