Lieutenant Whiteside, age 25, has had a distinguished career in the Army. According to the article, written by Washington Post reporters, she first served at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and then, because of her exeperience working with wounded soldiers returning from Iraq, decided to volunteer for duty in Iraq herself. Her service has been exemplary:
In 2005, she received her first assignment as an officer: at Walter Reed. As an executive officer of a support company, she supervised 150 soldiers and officers, and her evaluations from that time presaged the high marks she would receive most of her career...
"This superior officer is in the top 10 percent of Officers I have worked with in my 16 years of military service," said her rater, Capt. Joel Grant. She "must be promoted immediately, ahead of all peers."
She was assigned as a platoon leader in the 329th Medical Company (Ground Ambulance) at the Camp Cropper detainee prison near Baghdad International Airport. Cropper housed 4,000 detainees, including high-security prisoners such as Saddam Hussein, and suspected terrorists and insurgents... The hours were brutal. She ate one meal a day, slept in two four-hour shifts in the barracks inside the prison and worked seven days a week. Her superiors credited her with her unit's success. "She has produced outstanding results in one of the most demanding and challenging Combat Zones," her commander, Lt. Col. Darlene McCurdy, wrote in her evaluation.
On Dec. 30, U.S. military officials took Saddam from his cell at Camp Cropper for execution. The next day, thousands of inmates rioted... Whiteside took charge in the chaos, according to written statements by troops in her unit.
Lt. Whiteside has done everything asked of her, and more. She volunteered for service in Iraq, and has served with distinction.
But a combination of fatigue from the conditions under which she worked as well as the strain of conflicts with a male superior officer (which the article details) led to the following incident, which the Army may now try to court-martial her for:
As the tensions with the officer increased, Whiteside said, she began having panic attacks. She stopped sleeping, she said, and started self-medicating with NyQuil and Benadryl but didn't seek help from the mental-health clinic because she feared the Army would send her home, as it had recently done with a colonel...
At 6:20 p.m. a soldier frantically approached Maj. Ana Luisa Ramirez, a mental-health nurse, and said Whiteside was "freaking out" and wanted to see Ramirez. The nurse found Whiteside sitting on her bed, mumbling and visibly upset. Ramirez left to get medication.
Later, she saw Whiteside in a dark hallway with her sweat-shirt hood pulled over her head and her hands in her pockets. Ramirez asked Whiteside to come into her room and noticed what appeared to be dried blood on her neck and hands. When she tried to take a closer look, Ramirez said, Whiteside pointed an M-9 pistol at her and "told me to move away and she locked the door," according to a statement Ramirez gave to the Army.
Ramirez tried to take Whiteside's gun, but Whiteside pushed her away and expressed her hatred of the officer she thought was sabotaging her. She twice fired into the ceiling.
Nurses began yelling, and Whiteside shouted that she wanted to kill them, the report said. She opened the door and saw armed soldiers coming her way. Slamming the door, she discharged the weapon once into her stomach.
The final decision about whether for the charges to go forward has not yet been made, but it has been pointed out that she may face prejudice during the proceedings because of military attitudes about mental illness:
Wolfe suggested the military court might not buy the mental-illness defense. "Who doesn't find psychobabble unclear ... how many people out there believe that insanity should never be a defense, that it is just ... an 'excuse.' "
This entire incident is a travesty. We've all heard the stories about the military's inabilities to care for wounded veterans, especially those with mental conditions (the article says that Whiteside was diagnosed with "severe major depressive disorder and a personality disorder. According to a statement by an Army psychiatrist, she was suffering from a disassociation with reality.") But this is so far beyond the pale that it made my stomach turn just to read it. The Army is seriously considering imprisoning for life someone who volunteered not just for military service, but also of her own free will chose to go to Iraq even though she could have certainly stayed where she was, serving at Walter Reed. And if THAT is not enough, there is the fact that, as the article points out, Whiteside's condition went untreated because she chose not to report her problems- because she wanted to stay in the service!
I am no legal expert, and I am convinced that there are problems with our judicial system's treatment of the mentally ill in civilian life as well, not just in the military. But the fact remains that the Army prosecutor is essentially arguing that a soldier who served honorably and voluntarily dedicated her life to the service suddenly decided to attack her comrades for no apparent reason... and yet is not mentally ill. This is absolutely outrageous.
At the hearing, Wolfe, who had 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, chief of Behavioral Health Services in Walter Reed's Department of Psychiatry, 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!"
Because of the rigid attitudes about mental disorders prevalent in the military, someone who did everything asked of her and performed her duty in extraordinary fashion, despite the impossibly difficult circumstances she faced, now faces a choice between fighting the charges and accepting the very real possibiltiy of court-martial, or taking a discharge that would likely deprive her of most benefits.
She has chosen to fight the charges.
...Whiteside awaits the Army's decision on her fate this week. "I can fight them," she said, "because I'm alive."
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