LTC Allen West retired from the US Army after having discharged a pistol in a mock execution of an Iraqi prisoner. BLACKFIVE readers know this because we followed the story closely at the time. I also know this because both times I went to Iraq, I was treated to a JAG presentation on the laws of war that used him as a (bad) example.
Both times, the JAG officer got heavy pushback from the audience, both uniformed and civilian. Many going over as civilians were former military, but now freer to speak their minds to officers. There was no doubt about how the uniformed soldiers felt either, though they framed their opinion in the respectful manner required by their rank and position.
The clear and passionate majority opinion, both times, was that Colonel West absolutely right to do what he did: whatever it took to accomplish the mission, save the lives of his soldiers and bring them home. He was absolutely revered for the fact that he was willing to suffer legal consequences in order to do what he thought he needed to do to bring his soldiers home.
If the majority was right about the morality, the law and morality are not aligned. What he did was very plainly against the law, as he admitted. The law was enforced with what I suppose would now be called a "wrist slap," though it ended his career.
West was processed through an Article 32 hearing in November 2003, where he admitted wrongdoing, was fined $5,000 over two months for misconduct and assault. He then submitted his resignation, and was allowed to retire with full benefits in the summer of 2004.
After West's resignation was brought to public attention the next Fall, he received over two thousand letters and e-mails from the American public offering him moral support. In addition, a letter was drafted to the secretary of the Army, its signatories being ninety-five members of Congress in West's support. Even a prominent critic of the Abu Graib affair, Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, wrote a letter to his constituents in support of West's honorable intentions during the controversial incident.
To judge from the video, retirement hasn't taken much of the fire out of the man. The one career may be over, but that just means he's free to fight in another arena. There's probably a lesson in that somewhere.