BAGHDAD, Iraq - An American officer has been stripped of his command after pleading guilty to assaulting an Iraqi detainee during interrogation, the military said yesterday.
A disciplinary proceeding found that the actions by Lt. Col. Allen West were serious enough to "merit a court-martial." But the military said in a statement that mitigating circumstances - specifically, the "stressful environment" of combat - and West's distinguished service record prompted the 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.
"Frustration and anger overcame his professional ethics and personal values, and he performed what he knew to be illegal and immoral acts," said the statement issued by the Army's 4th Infantry Division.
During a closed-door tribunal Friday in 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.
He is the most senior officer to receive disciplinary action since the start of the war. West served as a battalion commander with the 4th Infantry Division and was in charge of about 800 soldiers operating in one of the most dangerous regions in Iraq. For the past few months, he has been confined to the division's base in Tikrit.
The military said that during an interrogation of an Iraqi police officer Aug. 20 near the village of Taji, north of Baghdad, West fired his pistol near the head of the prisoner, threatened to kill him, and allowed his troops to beat the man.
The detainee, Yahya Jhodri Hamoodi, was suspected of having knowledge of a planned attack on U.S. troops in the Sunni Triangle, the region north and west of Baghdad that has been a hotbed of anti-U.S. resistance. Scores of soldiers have been killed or wounded in ambushes in the area.
West acknowledged last month before a military tribunal that his actions were wrong, but said that at the time of the incident he believed he was protecting his troops' lives. "If it's about the lives of my men and their safety, I'd go through hell with a gasoline can," West said during the earlier proceeding.