December 02, 2007

The Army Makes a Fool of Itself ... Again

No, Abu Muqawama isn't talking about the fact that West Point got beat 38-3 by the Naval Academy. (Aside from the officers who attended the Military Academy, there aren't too many soldiers in the U.S. Army who care about that.)

Rather, Dana Priest and Anne Hull -- who must surely win a Pulitzer Prize for their series on Walter Reed Medical Center -- have yet another article in today's Washington Post detailing the U.S. Army's ongoing efforts to make itself look as incompetent as possible, stateside, just when it's starting to show a bit of intelligence in Iraq.

In a nondescript conference room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside listened last week as an Army prosecutor outlined the criminal case against her in a preliminary hearing. The charges: attempting suicide and endangering the life of another soldier while serving in Iraq.

Her hands trembled as Maj. Stefan Wolfe, the prosecutor, argued that Whiteside, now a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed, should be court-martialed. After seven years of exemplary service, the 25-year-old Army reservist faces the possibility of life in prison if she is tried and convicted.

Military psychiatrists at Walter Reed who examined Whiteside after she recovered from her self-inflicted gunshot wound diagnosed her with a severe mental disorder, possibly triggered by the stresses of a war zone. But Whiteside's superiors considered her mental illness "an excuse" for criminal conduct, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

At the hearing, Wolfe, who had already warned Whiteside's lawyer of the risk of using a "psychobabble" defense, pressed a senior psychiatrist at Walter Reed to justify his diagnosis.

"I'm not here to play legal games," Col. George Brandt responded angrily, according to a recording of the hearing. "I am here out of the genuine concern for a human being that's breaking and that is broken. She has a severe and significant illness. Let's treat her as a human being, for Christ's sake!"

Read the whole, sordid tale here. There are going to be those who will say Priest and Hull have it out for the Army and are trying to make the institution look bad. Don't believe them. Because Priest and Hull aren't doing anything more than what Tom Ricks did with Fiasco,which is to break down this unhealthy myth that the U.S. military can do no wrong. As anyone who has actually served in the military can tell you -- and there are fewer and fewer of us, as a percentage of the population, everyday now -- the military screws up plenty. And when they do it on the large scale like in Iraq and at Walter Reed, civilians and their elected representatives have to do something about it.