There is an important question that must be asked regarding the situation of Army Lt. Col. Allen B. West.
What if he had had the wrong guy?
West, for those of you who seem more interested in the arrest of Michael Jackson (which sadly seems to include the national media), is the man accused of firing a gun near an Iraqi prisoner in order to frighten him into revealing information on a possible ambush planned for West and his men.
According to some reports, West also threatened to kill the man, an Iraqi police officer who had been implicated by other sources. After the threats and a few random punches, the man released information that, according to West, allowed them to avoid the ambush and saved American lives.
First, one must consider the difficulty in making any reasonable judgment on the case based on the information provided to the general public. That information is always incomplete and one must research several sources even to come close to getting a glimpse of what happened.
In other words, the military probably has more information on this and thus may have a good reason for prosecuting West that we don't know.
With that in mind, based on the evidence presented so far, one cannot help but at least sympathize with West and indeed I'm inclined to support him.
Let's answer the above question first.
What if West had had the wrong guy?
That's entirely possible, considering the previously mentioned fact that the detainee is an Iraqi police officer and surely has enemies. Considering our shaky relationship with the local police force in light of our having accidentally killed a couple of them, it is important that we not do more to mess things up.
However, it would appear that West might have taken that into consideration. The thing about this case is that West actually showed a remarkable amount of constraint, given the circumstances. He didn't let things get to the point that there would be no forgiveness afterward if the man actually didn't know anything.
He scared the guy, and smacked him a couple of times (I'd like more information on the extent of his injuries from that beating). This cannot be compared to applying electricity and a blowtorch to parts of the detainee's body.
And the fact is, the man in question was not innocent. He did have information that our soldiers needed, and war is hell, after all. So West's position is far more defensible.
Still, if we are to accept this behavior by one of our soldiers, we cannot complain if the same is done in return by our enemies. This runs contrary to the dynamics of wartime hatred which dictate that anything our enemy does is evil while anything our soldiers do, no matter how horrific, is never more than "necessary."
We can complain if worse is done, and it probably would be. Things happen in war that shouldn't happen, and in the past our own military has been guilty of atrocities, whether we're willing to accept that or not.
But this time, in West's case, an example was set. One can be strong and do what it takes to survive and win while at the same time maintaining a semblance of civilization.
As for his court martial, I'm sure West knew he was bending the rules when he did what he did, and he undoubtedly knew there was some punishment he would have to bear. But at the same time, he has already been relieved of command and his military career (a career that I understand was most impressive) is also over. That's punishment enough, I think.
There's one more pertinent question in this case. Is West the kind of man we want leading our troops and shepherding this nation's sons and daughters through combat?
Before we answer, consider this quote from West's testimony during his court martial.
"I felt there was a threat to my soldiers. If it's about the life of my men, I'd go through hell with a gasoline can."
My answer to the final question is yes, without reservation, yes.
Ed Brock covers public safety and municipalities for the News Daily. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.