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West Case Shows Even The Military Has Its Priorities Wrong
by Nicholas G. Jenkins
03 November 2003US Army

Lieutenant Colonel Allen B. West faces an Article 32 hearing, possible court martial, and up to eight years in prison because he fired a gun to frighten an Iraqi resister into spilling the beans about attacks on American forces.


Silly me to assume that ends mattered more than means in the United States military.  I thought in war, staying alive was paramount. Apparently not so in the Army, where Lieutenant Colonel Allen B. West faces an Article 32 hearing, possible court martial, and up to eight years in prison because he fired a gun to frighten an Iraqi resister into spilling the beans about attacks on American forces.  Colonel West’s methods saved American lives (including, quite possibly, his own), but the process-obsessed Army doesn’t appear to care.  What insanity.

What happened is this.  In August, Iraqi guerrillas attacked members of the Colonel's unit in northern Iraq. American soldiers detained an Iraqi policeman who helped plan the attack and interrogated him (unsuccessfully) for several hours.  Colonel West then took over the questioning and, to put a little fear of Allah into the detainee, twice discharged his nine millimeter handgun.  He fired the shots away from the prisoner but evidently they did the trick, because soon thereafter the Iraqi not only gave up the names of three guerillas involved in the attack, but revealed details of an impending sniper attack as well.  The shooting was forgotten about until Army investigators got wind of it during a climate-command investigation of the brigade, at which point the 42-year old African-American was charged with one count of aggravated assault.  His choice -- leave the Army now and lose retirement benefits, or potentially face a court martial.

Now I wouldn’t advise wielding a rod during interrogations, especially if the goal is to obtain a confession that will hold up in an American court.  But an Article 32 hearing?  A possible court martial?  Up to eight years in prison?   Forced retirement? No way. 

Fact is, Colonel West got the job done.  He obtained the names of three Iraqi guerillas who had already attacked American forces and learned about a planned sniper attack -- all invaluable pieces of information. Knowing all this undoubtedly saved American lives (and probably some Iraqi lives, too).  Last I checked, saving lives of Americans is what American soldiers are supposed to do. 

I’m guessing the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and sundry other peacenik groups will see it differently, and we’ll be hearing from them soon enough. Their refrain will be some version of the tried and tested (but still nonsensical) we’ve stooped to their level therefore the terrorists have won poppycock.  Don’t buy it.  Terrorists don’t win when we play tough.  They win when they kill Americans, plain and simple. 

Listen also for something along the lines of “Colonel West’s conduct shocked the conscience.”  He may have offended some Victorian sensibilities, but I don’t find firing two bullets away from someone to be as shocking as firing them at someone, which is exactly what this Iraqi and his cohorts had designs on doing.  Personally, my conscience would be shocked if I knew American deaths could have been prevented if only the Army had played hardball with an enemy combatant it had in its custody.

Humanrightsniks can be forgiven their ignorance. But the Army has no excuse.  At bottom, the Army’s position is that given the choice between not getting the confession and getting it but by unconventional means, it would pick the former.  But not getting the confession means American soldiers would have needlessly died, which means that, to the Army, process matters more than American lives.  Not exactly a message that will inspire Army recruits, if you ask me.

Perhaps the judge advocates in Iraq have forgotten because the New York Times doesn’t remind them every day, but Colonel West and his brethren are at war. Not a war by name, like the war on drugs or the war on poverty.  A real guns-and-bullets, lose-and-we-stick-you-in-a-box-and-fly-you-home war.  Their enemies conspire to kill them, and they do so at the rate of at least one troop a day (the Times makes sure we remember).  Our soldiers, in turn, are permitted to shoot and kill their enemies.   With this prosecution, the Army is saying that it is okay for soldiers to kill a would-be American killer, but put a little fear in them?  See you in court.     

Lest you have doubts, suppose this incident had occurred in early September 2001.  Suppose instead of an Iraqi resister, Colonel West interrogated an Al-Qaeda terrorist.  And suppose instead of a planned sniper attack, the interrogation was about a plan to hijack commercial airplanes and fly them into tall buildings and government offices.  Only the most rabid Blame America First-er could argue the ends wouldn’t justify the means in that case.  Conceptually, I don’t see the difference.

Frankly, firing a few shots to make a bird sing doesn’t strike me as a big deal. Colonel West was hardly playing gulag guard.  He didn’t torture or maim the man who would kill him.  Heck, he didn’t even take Allah’s name in vain.  I’ve seen worse on NYPD Blue

Don’t get me wrong -- I like gun-free discourse as much as the next guy.  But the Army’s job is to win wars, not worry that a man who planned to kill American troops might have had a momentary lump in his throat.   Colonel West’s situation -- like the Guantanamo detainees case before it -- shows that the ever-spreading cancer of process-above-all-else is spreading to the military.  For Americans who wants to win wars, that should be of considerable concern.

Nicholas G. Jenkins and founder and chief executive officer of the The Fence
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