When President Obama said it was time to turn the page on Iraq, he should have also declared his intention to close the book on the lingering, festering injustices the U.S. government has perpetrated on 10 American veterans of the Iraq war still incarcerated in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth.
As noted in this column, these Americans are the war's forgotten men, soldiers trapped by restrictive, legalistic rules of engagement on an ultra-fluid battlefield where the enemy knew no rules. For killing this enemy and, it must also be admitted, surviving to live another day, these soldiers were sentenced to terms ranging from 10 to 40 years. In other words, for the rest of their young lives.
Allen West, himself a retired Army lieutenant colonel and veteran of both Desert Storm and the war in Iraq, has not forgotten these men. West, the Republican candidate for Congress in Florida's 22nd District, is speaking this Labor Day Weekend at the first, and, it is hoped, last Leavenworth Ten Freedom Ride, a parade past the Leavenworth military prison to draw attention to the plight of the Ten, resulting in their freedom.
West could almost have been among them. Back in 2003 as a battalion commander north of Baghdad, West fired his pistol near the head of a uncooperative Iraqi under interrogation who was believed to be withholding information about an assassination plot and ambush of West and his troops. The man talked. West and his men encountered no more ambushes for the next two months until West was relieved of his command and charged with improper interrogation methods, charges that could have drawn a prison sentence.
"I know the method I used was not right, but I wanted to take care of my soldiers," West testified at his 2003 Article 32 hearing (similar to a preliminary grand jury hearing). When asked if he would alter his behavior under similar circumstances in the future, West replied: "If it's about the lives of my soldiers at stake, I'd go through hell with a gasoline can."