An American officer has been stripped of his command after pleading guilty to assaulting an Iraqi detainee during interrogation
Army Lieutenant Colonel Allen B. West, who brandished a pistol and threatened to shoot an Iraqi police officer while interrogating him in 2003.
Before that August night he had never conducted or witnessed an interrogation. He was a commander, overseeing an artillery battalion of some 650 soldiers and officers.
Many months before the Abu Ghraib prison scandal raised questions about whether the military was permitting or tolerating the mistreatment of detainees, the Army pointedly rejected Colonel West's aggressive tactics during that single interrogation.
West fired his pistol near the head of the prisoner, threatened to kill him, and allowed his troops to beat the man.
Said West: "Yes, there had been sporadic body punches and shoving to the individual, which I witnessed but did not allow to get too brutal."
West admitted to pushing Hamoodi's head into a clearing barrel full of sand, which is typically used for clearing weapons. West then put his gun into the same barrel, near Hamoodi's head and fired.
"In my anger I do not know if I fired two shots in to the barrel or one into the air and another into the barrel," said West in his sworn statement.
Q: When you heard the first shot did you think the LTC had shot the detainee?
Q: Why did you think he shot the detainee?
A: He seemed very frustrated he wasn't getting the right answers. He was getting more and more upset. It was like it was the last straw.
Q: How many times did LTC fire his weapon near the detainee's head?
Q: After the incident, did LTC tell you not to talk about the incident?
No plans for attacks on Americans or weapons were found. Colonel West testified that he did not know whether "any corroboration" of a plot was ever found, adding: "At the time I had to base my decision on the intelligence I received. It's possible that I was wrong about Mr. Hamoodi."
Soldiers set up surveillance in hopes of catching those involved in the ambush, which was supposedly scheduled for the next day. But the attack didn't occur. A search of Hamoodi's home reportedly turned up no evidence of the plot.
Hamoodi, who was interviewed by the New York Times nine months after the interrogation, said that he was never involved in any assassination plot and that the information he gave was induced by fear of death.
Hamoodi was detained for 45 days, then released without having been charged. West told the Times, "It's possible that I was wrong about Mr. Hamoodi."
During a closed-door tribunal Friday in the town of Tikrit, West was found guilty of three counts of aggravated assault and a single count of communicating a threat. The ruling was issued after West pleaded guilty to misconduct.
When disciplinary proceedings were commenced against West, senior congressional Republicans, including Senator John Warner and Congressman Duncan Hunter -- who as chairs, respectively, of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, had their hands on the Pentagon's pursestrings -- intervened aggressively to protect him. The result: instead of facing punishment that could have included prison time, West got off with a fine, a reprimand and early departure from the service.
If he were to be found guilty at a court martial of the two articles against him, West could have faced 11 years in prison, a military prosecutor told CNN.
The investigation found probable cause that West violated two statutes of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which forbade threatening a prisoner and assaulting him. The army initially moved forward with a criminal prosecution of West, until a hearing officer dismissed the case, fining West $5,000.
The military decided against court-martialing Colonel West. He was fined $5,000, and he submitted his resignation, which becomes effective this summer, when he will retire with full benefits.
Army to instead relieve West of his command, fine him $5,000, and order him back to the United States, where he will be allowed to retire.
The Army filed criminal charges against him, an article 32 hearing was conducted at which West admitted wrongdoing, and ultimately he was fined $5,000 for misconduct and assault and then allowed to resign from the military. The Army concluded that his actions were criminal and that "his crimes merit a court-martial." Had West been prosecuted and convicted, he could have faced as much as 11 years in prison, a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of pension and benefits.
His case not only began as a criminal proceeding, as Pincus notes; it ended with a finding that his actions were criminal. He avoided prison only because powerful members of Congress intervened.
West received a nonjudicial punishment -- the path that accounts for 90 percent of infractions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The military said that through his actions against the detainee, West "disobeyed laws, ignored orders . . . and mortgaged future discipline in his unit. Without discipline, there is no trust, no cohesion, and no higher purpose for which we fight."
And what became of Allen B. West? He was lionized by right-wing talk radio and named the "Man of the Year" by FrontPage Magazine, a vehicle of radio talk jock David Horowitz.