TIKRIT, Iraq – A U.S. military court opened a hearing Tuesday into accusations that an American lieutenant colonel manhandled and threatened to kill an Iraqi detainee, allegedly firing his gun near the man to get information on a possible plot to kill him.
Lt. Col. Allen B. West — the most senior officer of the 4th Infantry Division (search) to face such a proceeding — attended the hearing with his lawyer in a U.S. military base in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
West is accused of punching and firing a pistol near the prisoner, Yahya Jhodri Hamoodi, on Aug. 20 while he was being interrogated in Taji, according to Lt. Col. Jimmy Davis, who presided over the hearing.
West also allegedly threatened to kill the detainee if he did not talk, Davis said, reading from a fact sheet. The hearing is to determine whether West should face court-martial.
A preliminary investigation alleged that West's actions were in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (search). West remained in Iraq after the incident and was assigned to other duties in the division, officials said.
Maj. Robert Reginelli, who investigated the case, testified during the Tuesday hearing that the detainee, who is an Iraqi policeman, alleged that West pointed a gun at him during questioning. Other soldiers covered Hamoodi's face with a shirt and began punching him in the body and head, Reginelli quoted the detainee as saying.
The soldiers warned Hamoodi that he would be killed if he did not talk, Reginelli said. At one point, West led the detainee out of the detention facility into a weapons' cleaning area.
West allegedly grabbed the detainee by the neck, forced him down on the sand and fired a round near him, Reginelli said, quoting Hamoodi.
The detainee insisted he was not aware of the assassination plot, Reginelli said.
West's driver, Pfc. Michael P. Johnson, testified he saw the officer fire into the sand near the detainee but he did not believe the officer really planned to kill him.
"He was just scared," Johnson described the detainee. "I knew it was wrong."
West's lawyer, Neal Puckett, refused to comment on the accusations. He said West would testify Wednesday in his own defense.
Last weekend, three American soldiers were ordered to stand trial in January on charges of abusing Iraqi prisoners of war at the detention center at Camp Bucca (search) in southern Iraq.
The charges grew out of an alleged incident May 12 in which the three soldiers from the 320th Military Police Battalion allegedly punched and kicked Iraqi POWs. The soldiers said they acted in self-defense, that conditions were chaotic at Camp Bucca, and that guards had been harassed and assaulted daily by unruly prisoners.
The three soldiers, Master Sgt. Lisa Marie Girman, 35; Staff Sgt. Scott A. McKenzie, 38; and Spc. Timothy F. Canjar, 21, are accused of dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment of enemy prisoners of war, filling false official statements, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
A fourth soldier originally held on the same allegations, Sgt. Shawna Edmondson, 24, has received an other-than-honorable discharge from the military, which she requested rather than face martial proceedings.
The 4th Infantry Division has jurisdiction over areas west and north of Baghdad, including parts of the violent so-called "Sunni Triangle."