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U.S. officer fined for harsh interrogation tactics

West, right, was fined $5,000 and will be reassigned while he awaits retirement.
West, right, was fined $5,000 and will be reassigned while he awaits retirement.

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Crime, Law and Justice

TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- The commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division on Friday accepted a U.S. military investigator's recommendation and ordered administrative action against Lt. Col. Allen West, who was accused of using improper methods to force information out of an Iraqi detainee.

Following a military hearing, West was fined $5,000 over two months, according to West's civillian attorney, Neal Puckett.

The punishment does not affect West's eligibility for retirement and pension, Puckett said in a statement.

West, 42, will be assigned to the rear detachment of the 4th Infantry Division awaiting the processing of his retirement request, the statement said.

Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the 4th Infantry's top general in Tikrit, could have rejected the recommendation and ordered a court martial. 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 case stems from an incident August 20 at a military base in Taji, just north of Baghdad, when West was interrogating an Iraqi policeman, who was believed to have information about a plot to assassinate West with an ambush on a U.S. convoy.

In testimony at an Article 32 hearing -- the military's version of a grand jury or preliminary hearing -- West said the policeman, Yahya Jhrodi Hamoody, was not cooperating with interrogators, so he watched four of his soldiers from the 220th Field Artillery Battalion beat the detainee on the head and body.

West said he also threatened to kill Hamoody. Military prosecutors say West followed up on that threat by taking the suspect outside, put him on the ground near a weapons clearing barrel and fired his 9 mm pistol into the barrel.

Apparently not knowing where West's gun was aimed, Hamoody cracked and gave information about the planned ambush on West's convoy, thwarting the attack.

West said there were no further ambushes on U.S. forces in Taji until he was relieved of his leadership post on October 4.

"I know the method I used was not right, but I wanted to take care of my soldiers," West testified to a military courtroom of observers and some teary-eyed troops formerly under his command.

Asked if he would have act differently if under similar circumstances again, West testified, "If it's about the lives of my soldiers at stake, I'd go through hell with a gasoline can."

Puckett argued that because West is always accompanied by U.S. troops that he acted to save American lives.

But while West's supporters call him a hero, military prosecutors said his actions amounted to torture and violated articles 128 and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Prosecutor Capt. Magdalena Pezytulska said West should be tried for assault and for communicating a threat. "This is a case about a man who lost his temper," she argued. "There are consequences for [West's] actions."

When West testified that he had "no malice toward Hamoody" and that he "just wanted information," Pezytulska presented a document of West's typed statement following the August incident. She asked him to read his own written words to the court: "In my anger, I couldn't remember how many shots were fired."

After nearly 20 years of military service, West plans to move his family from Texas to Florida, where he said he hopes to start a new life.

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