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John Weisman: Memo to Army Chief of Staff Pete Schoomaker
John Weisman: Memo to Army Chief of Staff Pete Schoomaker

John Weisman: Black Ops

John Weisman is one of a select company of writers to have had books on both the New York Times fiction and nonfiction best-seller lists. His best-sellers include Rogue Warrior (written with Richard Marcinko) and Rogue Warrior's eight fictional sequels. A former journalist, Weisman has worked in more than three dozen countries. His latest work, the Black Ops novel SOAR, is now available through HarperCollins/William Morrow. He is currently completing the second Black Ops novel, Jack in the Box, for release in 2004. He can be emailed at: blackops@johnweisman.com

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November 3, 2003

[Have an opinion on this column? Sound off in John Weisman: Hot Discussions.]

Dear General:

Now let's see if I get this straight. An officer whose Tikrit-based troops have come under attack from Saddam loyalists becomes aware that an Iraqi detainee has information about a planned ambush of his Soldiers, but the prisoner isn't being cooperative.

The officer then goes to interrogate the detainee -- an Iraqi police officer, by the way -- and in the course of questioning, fires his weapon as a way of making the point that he's serious about obtaining straight answers.

The detainee then tells the truth. The ambush is averted, and Soldiers' lives are saved.

The officer is then:

A: given a commendation.

B: promoted to full colonel for showing initiative under pressure and loyalty to his troops.

C: told to resign his commission immediately or face a court martial.

The correct answer, I'm sorry to have to report, is "C."

Lt. Col. Alan B. West, who aggressively interrogated an Iraqi detainee so that he could prevent an ambush and save his Soldiers lives, is being charged with aggravated assault by his unit's JAG officer.

According to published reports, Lt. Col West allowed two of his Soldiers to "physically agress" the prisoner (an act for which they were later fined), and then West brandished his pistol and fired two shots to scare the man into talking.

For this, the Judge Advocate General's office wants to end his 19-year career and possibly send him to prison for eight years. Meanwhile, idiot officers who get their men killed are being given medals and promotions, and generals who have never come under fire are putting themselves in for Silver Stars.

General Schoomaker, this is madness -- and you have to put a full stop to it right now.

Because this is what happens when lawyers, not shooters, run the military.

This is what happens in the politically correct world in which a secretary of the army (Togo West) hires a consultant who actually drafts a report stating that the Army needs to become less aggressive and more in touch with its feminine side.

This is what happens when the Army culture replaces risk-taking and initiative with hundreds of pages of rules and regulations that hamper war-fighting, degrade unit integrity, and place inane limits on how Soldiers can or cannot conduct themselves in battle.

This is what happens when managers and systems analysts replace Warriors in the command structure.

This is what happens when somewhere along the chain of command, the idea that war is about killing people and breaking things gets completely lost. This is what happens when the Army forgets the words of General George S. Patton, Jr.: "We must be eager to kill, to inflict on the enemy -- the hated enemy -- wounds, death, and destruction."

Now, I'm not in favor of hooking prisoners up to field telephones -- although it has certainly happened in the past. Nor am I in favor of taking the Argentine approach to interrogation, i.e., tossing one prisoner out of a chopper 10,000 feet above the South Atlantic and then posing the question to the second prisoner in the chopper.

Moreover, Lt. Col West's actions came nowhere close to anything that can be called torture. Aggressive? Obviously. Outside the box? Absolutely. But aren't those qualities precisely the qualities we want in our officers?

Because if I were a Soldier serving under West's command, I'd say HOOAH, Colonel, and follow him to hell. Why? Because Lt. Col. West demonstrated something that far too few of today's officers are willing to demonstrate to their men and women: loyalty DOWN the chain of command.

Lt. Col. West put his Soldiers' lives above his own career. That sort of behavior deserves to be praised and rewarded, not given eight years and a dishonorable discharge.

2003 John Weisman. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.



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