By Dean Yates
TIKRIT, Iraq (Reuters) - A senior U.S. army officer told a military hearing in Iraq Wednesday he was wrong to fire his pistol near a detained Iraqi's head but vowed he would sacrifice his life to protect his men.
His voice breaking with emotion, Lieutenant Colonel Allen West of the 4th Infantry Division said he had told the families of the men and women in his battalion before leaving for Iraq that he would bring them home alive.
West said he believed the detained Iraqi, a policeman called Yahya Jhodri Hamoody, had information about plots to attack American troops when he was brought in for questioning at Taji, just north of Baghdad, around August 20.
Other officers testifying in the preliminary hearing at a base in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit have said the plots included an imminent plan to kill West, the most senior soldier charged with assaulting Iraqis since the invasion last March.
The military has charged West with beating up Hamoody, firing a pistol near his head and threatening to kill him.
"I know the method I used was not the right method...I was going to do anything to intimidate and scare him, but I was not going to endanger his life," West told the hearing.
West said he watched his men beat Hamoody without intervening. He said he then went outside and fired a warning shot into the air.
Still unable to get information, West said Hamoody was forced over a sandbox which soldiers use to clear weapons.
"I placed my left hand against the side of his head and fired away from him," West said.
Hamoody then told of plans to set up a sniper position near a police station that West's soldiers visited, West said.
Asked by his defense lawyer if he would used such tactics to obtain information again, West, dressed in combat fatigues and wiping tears from his eyes, said:
"If it's about the lives of my men and their safety, I'd go through hell with a gasoline can.
"But that's what's going on out there in the streets here and that's how I feel about my boys. There is not a person in this room I would not sacrifice my life for."
After the incident, West lost command of his battalion of 650 soldiers. A number of them attended the hearing.
West's lawyer has said his client did not dispute the description of what he had done but argued he had acted legally and in self-defense, as he was trying to gain information to prevent an attack against him and his soldiers.
The hearing was expected to close later Wednesday or Thursday. The presiding officer then will decide if the evidence merits court martial proceedings and the case will be turned over to the general in command of the 4th Infantry Division.