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 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
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.