Sunday, January 14, 2007
Escalating the costs of war
- Heading back to the debate in Appalachia
- Redistricting process must be taken from pols
- A shutdown remains a very real possibility
- U.S. Navy Vets case argues for campaign limits
From the RoundTable blog
Some much-needed moral clarity was injected into the debate over President Bush's proposed escalation of American troops into Iraq by a stunning revelation. The day Bush gave his long-anticipated speech, newspapers reported that Army Pfc. Steven D. Green, accused of being the ringleader behind a horrific rape and murder in Iraq, sought mental health assistance three months prior to the incident.
He was diagnosed as having "homicidal ideations." In past conflicts, that diagnosis would have gotten him a trip home, or at least assignment out of an intense combat zone until he could be more fully evaluated and treated.
But the U.S. military is stretched so thin by nearly four years in Iraq that it has been forced to lower its standards for recruitment and retention of soldiers.
The Army needed warm bodies in Iraq, so Green was given a low dosage of a mood-enhancer and sent back to one of the most threatening combat zones.
Green, a high school dropout who enlisted days after an arrest for misdemeanor possession of alcohol by a minor, was assigned to a battalion that saw a lot of fighting and suffered many casualties.
One particular incident appeared to shake him up. He was manning a checkpoint with five other soldiers when an Iraqi man who had served as an informant walked up, greeted the group, and then pulled a pistol and opened fire, killing two of the soldiers.
Shortly after that, Green sought help from the combat stress team. According to an article by The Associated Press, "Green said he was angry about the war, desperate to avenge the death of comrades and driven to kill Iraqi citizens."
The stress team gave him low doses of Seroquel to regulate his mood and advised him to get some sleep.
Then he was sent back to combat.
About three months later, a repulsive crime was committed that stood out even in a nation numbed to atrocity. Intruders broke into a home in a town outside of Baghdad. They murdered a mother, father and their 5-year-old daughter. They took turns raping the 14-year-old daughter, then killed her and set the house on fire.
Eight days later, Green was summoned for another mental evaluation. He was diagnosed with a severe anti-social personality disorder, declared unfit for service and given an honorable discharge.
The rape-murder was still thought to be the work of Iraqi insurgents.
It was four months before two members of Green's unit came forward and voiced suspicions that U.S. troops were involved. Green has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of murder and rape.
Another soldier pleaded guilty and has agreed to testify against Green and three other soldiers who are facing courts-martial.
An Army investigation was very critical of the combat stress team's handling of the situation: "Although a safety assessment was conducted, there is no safety plan addressing how [Green] will keep from acting on his homicidal thoughts."
After this incident came to light, the Pentagon changed its policies to reduce the chance that potential homicidal maniacs would be kept in stressful combat positions with ready access to weapons and a vulnerable civilian population.
But this is what four wearing years of the occupation of Iraq brought the military to. Whether he is found guilty or not, someone with Green's troubles should never have been kept in combat duty.
Such a lowering of standards insults the vast majority of dedicated, professional troops who volunteer for service and put their lives on the line to protect Iraqi civilians.
If that's how desperate the Pentagon was to get boots on the ground in Iraq at current force levels, it's no wonder that the military brass resisted Bush's call for a "surge." Where are the extra troops going to come from?
Either the standards will have to be lowered further, which is unacceptable, or already worn-out troops will have to be sent on third or fourth rotations, and kept in combat longer.
Bush's war has carried tremendous costs. Increasing the number of troops won't guarantee victory; it will only guarantee an escalation of costs, including these lost and ruined lives.
Radmacher is the editorial page editor of The Roanoke Times.