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October 29, 2003
Army files charges regarding interrogation tactics

The Army charged a colonel with assault during an interrogation of an Iraqi detainee:

Lt. Col. Allen B. West says he did not physically abuse the detainee, but used psychological pressure by twice firing his service weapon away from the Iraqi. After the shots were fired, the detainee, an Iraqi police officer, gave up the information on a planned attack around the northern Iraqi town of Saba al Boor.

But the Army is taking a dim view of the interrogation tactic. An Army official at the Pentagon confirmed to The Washington Times yesterday that Col. West has been charged with one count of aggravated assault. A military source said an Article 32 hearing has been scheduled in Iraq that could lead to the Army court-martialing Col. West and sending him to prison for a maximum term of eight years.

Col. West's defense is that the Iraqi was never in any physical danger; West put his body between the Iraqi and the gun, but intended the Iraqi to fear that he was going to be shot unless he complied. It would appear that West's actions were against the UCMJ, but I wonder if this isn't the "sausage factor" at work. There's a proverb that warns, "Those who love sausage and respect the law should never watch either being made." I suspect that those of us who appreciate the results of intelligence interrogations -- American lives saved and Baathists rounded up -- would quail a bit at seeing how they are conducted. Thankfully, West's actions seem to be outside the norm ... or are they?

Some soldiers are privately questioning the Army's drive to punish the officer for an interrogation technique that likely is used regularly to get information from terrorists. Col. West's unit in Iraq operates amid extreme danger. Fighters loyal to ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein are poised at any moment to kill the soldiers in ambushes using explosive devices, guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Col. West, 42, says he pressured the Iraqi after taking into account the dangerous environment and the risk to his soldiers' lives.

Colonel West's version of events is reviewed in the article, so be sure to read it through. It still seems to me that the Army is blowing this out of proportion, if Colonel West's description of events is accurate, and I acknowledge that's yet to be seen. If so, the Iraqi was never in physical danger, and West's action saved lives. If the Army feels he went overboard, then reassign or retire him; what justice would there be in a court-martial that may put him in jail for eight years?

Most importantly: will this prosecution result in diminished interrogations that will put American lives needlessly at risk? Because if the price of saving American lives is a couple of frightened Baathists, then I don't see what the problem is.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 29, 2003 5:54 AM

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