Sunday, December 02, 2007

WaPo coverage of United States v. Whiteside

Dana Priest and Anne Hull have a major story about the case and Article 32 investigation of 1LT Elizabeth Whiteside in today's Post. (They are the same reporters who broke the Walter Reed story in February.) Here's a link. The Whiteside case arises from an incident that occurred at Camp Cropper in Iraq on 31 December 2006. During the incident, 1LT Whiteside allegedly pointed a loaded weapon at a major, shouted that she wanted to kill other soldiers, discharged two rounds into the ceiling and ultimately shot herself in the stomach. According to the article, the charges against her include assault on a superior commissioned officer, aggravated assault, kidnapping, reckless endangerment, wrongful discharge of a firearm, communication of a threat, and two attempts of malingering without intent to avoid service.

The article indicates that at the Article 32 hearing, the "psychiatrist who performed Whiteside's sanity board evaluation testified that he found the lieutenant insane at the time of the shooting. One of the doctors said that Whiteside had a 'severe mental disease or [defect]" and that she "did not appreciate the nature and quality of her actions."

The article also recounts a dramatic exchange:

[MAJ Stefan Wolfe, the trial counsel] 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."

A decision on disposition of the charges is pending.


Dale Saran said...

Wow. The funny thing is, they don't have to give a verbatim transcript (the Army seems to deny these requests for verbatim more than others, but that's anecdotal.) If the gov't had denied that request, I wonder if we would have heard about this? (Probably, IMO).

No Man said...

Another interesting court-martial case covered in the WaPo today is the alleged murder of an Iraqi soldier who refused to extinguish his cigarette at the direction of a U.S. Marine sentry. A scuffle ensued and the Iraqi soldier got the worst of it. Coverage will be interesting, mainly to see how pro- or anti- military the press will be. This one is a little different because there is no insinuation the dead Iraqi could have been a terrorist or insurgent. See

John O'Connor said...

No Man:

There's a reason for the old saying about it being bad to have "three on a match." You're right, it will be interesting to see whether the evidence is there that the Marine thought that a lit cigarette exposed those in the vicinity to peril and how sympathetic the Marine Corps and press will be if the evidence is that the accused honestly (and reasonably or not) thought the Iraqi was doing something that might get them all killed.

No Man said...


Apparently the Marine thought the Iraqi soldier was going for his gun during the fight, but it is hard to tell from teh limited coverage so far whether that is the claim of self defense or if that was something the press picked up in interviews with his counsel:

Holmes maintains he knocked the cigarette out of the soldier's hand and the two got into a fight. During the struggle, Holmes felt Hassin reaching for his loaded AK-47, so the Marine killed him with a knife, then radioed for help, Cook said.

Anonymous said...

The WaPo Article puzzled me in many ways. First, it painted 1LT Whiteside as a strong, competent, “cool under fire,” and high-performing officer in Iraq. Then, without warning, the article states that she just "lost it," i.e., “lacked mental responsibility” for her actions.

It is unlikely that any officer would suffer such an abrupt change over night. 1LT Whiteside worked as a medical service officer at Camp Cropper. Camp Cropper is really a smaller “sub-camp,” well insulated within the safe confines of the sprawling Camp Victory. It gets the occasional haphazard mortar or rocket attack from time to time, just like anywhere else, which usually causes no serious harm to anyone. In other words, she wasn’t exposed to the same “outside the wire” stressors of those officers—male and female—who leave the safe confines of military bases everyday. 1LT Whiteside worked long days and worked everyday, just like any other officer in Iraq. So I don’t buy the notion that this officer was “teetering on the edge” and “suddenly snapped,” as the WaPo article portrayed.

1LT Whiteside was probably (1) already a basket case long before she got in trouble, in which case the WaPo’s favorable portrayal of her was severely skewed; or (2) the diagnosis by the doc is not particularly reliable or believable. The command apparently isn’t buying the doc’s report. If they did, she would likely be facing administrative separation and not a court-martial.

It really appears that 1LT Whiteside’s civilian defense counsel bamboozled the article’s authors, Dana Priest and Anne Hull. They obviously got all the leaked information from the CDC. I mean, really, 1LT Whiteside’s Officer Evaluation Reports (OERs) were nothing special. They contained glowing language, just like every OER for every officer out there, even the mediocre and lousy ones. But the WaPo writes about her as though she was on the verge of being frocked to O-4. Second, the WaPo writes the 1LT Whiteside faces “life in prison” if convicted. That’s nonsense. She’s charged with assaulting a superior commissioned officer, which can theoretically yield confinement for life “in time of war.” But as most of us know, that sentence enhancer doesn’t apply to the war in Iraq (see RCM 103(19)). 1LT Whiteside’s CDC is either incompetent (unlikely) or (more likely) never bothered to clarify that point with the WaPo authors. Honestly, even if convicted, does here anyone think she’ll do more than one year, let alone any time at all?

As usual, there is more to this story. But since the CDC has unfettered press access, and the government must remain mum, we’ll just have to hear one side for now.

BTW, in response to Dale Saran, the post didn’t get a verbatim transcript of the Article 32. Rather, they got a recording of it. Digital recorders are cheap these days. It’s easy to record the 32 with one and give a copy of the audio file to the CDC. It’s equally easy for the CDC to then forward a copy of the entire, or selected bits of, the 32 to the WaPo.

Sigmund Freud said...

Your analysis, along with your latent machismo projection ("she couldn't hack it"), conveys fairly typical ignorance (military folk wisdom) about the nature of mental disease. The sanity / insanity dichotomy (mental 'strength' / mental 'weakness') dichotomy you premise your blog on is just a form of modern witchcraft. You imply that job competence and mental stability are necessary co-conditions. Not so. Educate yourself. You only have learned about as much as a prosecutor needs to know. But as we learn more about mental disease (and although you were writing loosely) and more about PTSD, the epidemic suicide rates among war-returnees, and about VA / Walter Reed-type gentle negligence, using words like "basket case" will soon not be tolerated among the educated. You don't know anything about the doc's basis for, nor the details of, his your opinion holds less reliability than the doc's.

CAAFlog said...

Regarding the maximum authorized punishment, according to the Post article, the charges include kidnapping. The maximum authorized sentence for kidnapping includes confinement for life without eligibility for parole. Manual for Courts-Martial, United States, Pt. IV, ¶92.e (2005 ed.).

No Man said...

Thank to Anonymous TC and Dr. Freud. This is why we created CAAFlog! More comments like those please!

Anonymous said...

Seems that at least one anonymous has intimate knowledge about the case (i.e. someone from the government). Even in an anonymous posting, is it appropriate to be commenting about an ongoing case in a public forum?

No Man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Sigmund Freud,

Your defense of the doc’s report, and personal attack on me, reveal that you failed to understand the thrust of my posting. My point is this: the story made little sense and was one sided, largely because the article was vicariously authored by the civilian defense counsel. This one-sided tome, authored by two careless journalists, is oozing with contempt for the military and the military justice system. The press typically displays this attitude. So if I come across as strident in my views, it’s only because I know that too many people, on both sides of the bar, work too hard to make the military justice system fair, and I resent this story implying otherwise.

Like you, I haven’t read the doc’s report. But I can read between the lines in this story to glean a few things. First, the report/sanity board probably did not sway the CofC away from a CM, or else the case would be in medical administrative channels by now. (Caveat - it’s possible the gov’t is using the 32 as a trial balloon for their own theory of the case, and an unfavorable report from the 32 IO may cause them to rethink their position). Second, you are correct in that I “don't know anything about the doc's basis for, nor the details of, his diagnosis.” But why do we not know these things? Answer: Because the story was silent on them. Now ask yourself why that is. When a blatantly pro-defense story leave out the basis for what is supposedly its most compelling claim – that she was mentally unable to understand her actions – what does that tell you? Probably a few things, such as that the sanity board’s conclusions are not particularly compelling. After all, the story is entitled “Veteran Is Diagnosed, Then Charged.” (This is also patently misleading, she was charged first, and then a sanity board “diagnosed” her.) So what is the diagnosis? PTSD, Acute Stress Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Anti-Social Personality Sisorder? The story is mute on this issue, which means (1) the WaPo ignored the actual diagnosis, because it didn’t mesh with their “Magnanimous War Hero Gets Hosed by the Heartless Army” theme or (2) the CDC didn’t feed that particular bit of info to WaPo because the actual diagnosis wasn’t very compelling.
Notice how the basis for the diagnosis is also oddly absent. Surely the doc testified about the basis for the diagnosis at the 32. The closest the story comes is this passage, which does not even occur in the context of the doc’s diagnosis:

“As the tensions with the officer increased, Whiteside said, she began suffering panic attacks. She stopped sleeping, she said, and started self-medicating with NyQuil and Benadryl, but decided against seeking help from the mental health clinic because she feared that the Army would send her home, as it had recently done with a colonel.” (This is also rubbish – the combat stress teams in Iraq talk to tens of thousands of Soldiers and rarely bounce anyone from theatre unless they are a SEVERE threat to themselves or others. 1LT Whiteside is apparently medical service corps officer, and surely knew better.)

This “officer” whom Whiteside clashed with was apparently chauvinist pig, but that won’t get you to a combat stress related disorder like PTSD or ASD. PTSD/ASD requires “a traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one's physical integrity.” In other words, having a jackass for a boss won’t make you criminally insane from PTSD or ASD. The prison riot doesn’t count – these is no indication that she did anything other than manage her small team to carry out basic tasks while she stayed at a safe location. If she was anywhere near the actual violence, the story would certainly regale us with a more detailed account of her bravery in the face of such violence. So I restate my earlier question – what was the clinical basis for the diagnosis for the mental disorder? What is the unnamed mental disorder in the first place? And most importantly, what does the authors’ and the CDC’s failure to give you these facts tell you about what is really going on here?

If my flippant use of the term “basket case” offended your sensitivities, then you have my apologies. Though my hope is that an “educated person” such as you would forgive an inartful choice of words and address the argument behind them. My point was that if her “mental disease or defect” had risen to such a level that day that she could not “appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions,” then she probably had other similar episodes leading up to that crescendo. Or, alternatively, she would have suffered a “traumatic event” that led to PTSD, ASD or some other combat stress diagnosis. It would have been something more than mere “panic attacks” over her jerk boss. Instead, the story sticks to its theme, and portrays 1LT Whiteside as an exceptional, steady-as-a-rock leader up to that point. I don’t mean to imply that that good leaders or strong people don’t succumb to combat stressors and fall apart – some do. But it takes much more that having a jerk for a boss to make you criminally insane, nor does one become criminally insane overnight.

Let me conclude by saying that I have no ill will against 1LT Whiteside. It’s true that I think she’d be better off pressing the GCMCA for resignation with a recommendation to HRC for a general discharge (so she’d keep her medical benefits), but she’s chosen otherwise. That’s her right. But I don’t owe her the same evidentiary considerations I would owe here in a courtroom. Her CDC chose the forum here, and if he wants to try his case in the media, I am free to question his failure to produce evidence or information that truly persuades me.

CAAFlog – I stand corrected on the kidnapping count, but still stand by my original assertion that she’s facing little to no jail time, and the WaPo’s recitations of the statutory maximum was misleading.

No Man/Anonymous – I am not a TC, nor do I know anything about the case other than what I’ve read in that article. As fas as this case is concerned, I am just an ordinary member of the public. But I’ve been around. I’ve seen enough CDCs try their case in the media and manipulate predisposed journalists on MJ issues to know what really drove this story.

No Man said...

Anonymous TC:

I am not sure why you are averse to being called Anonymous TC, but no slight was intended. With multiple anonymous posts one must distinguish the herd. Just FYI Anon TC, only 1 of the contributors to this site (though Guert was an accused) was ever a TDC. All the others were TCs (and appellate defense counsel).

My point for posting again, other than the Ravens stinging defeat last night, was ask you a question about your comment on the story being mute about the diagnosis. Before the passages about the sanity board the article stated, "After a month, Whiteside was moved to Ward 54, the hospital's lockdown psychiatric unit, where she was diagnosed with a severe major depressive disorder and a personality disorder. According to a statement by an Army psychiatrist, she was suffering from a disassociation with reality."

That sounds like a diagnosis to me, in fact it even uses the word diagnosed. Am I missing something? If you have inside (but, publicly known or not confidential) information please do share.

Sigmund Freud said...

Anonymous TC Spokesperson,

To provide context for my reaction to your post, please check out: CBS News, "Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans, Nov 13, 2007: "In 2005, for example, in just those 45 states, there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. That’s 120 each and every week, in just one year."

In your second post, which I found to be more reasoned, you simply assert that the military justice system is "fair" and therefore you were doing the Lord's work by defending the detriment of 1LT Whiteside.

Now, I understand your major premise, which explains how you arrived at all of your other fallacies. First, you defend the system based on people's "good faith," hard work, and good intentions. I will accept your characterization, but we don't need much schooling in life or logic to see that the "good faith" argument holds little water.

Second, your generalization about the military justice "system" provides no analytical leverage. The "system" can be generally fair, but fail a particular person.

Third, [Marines, skip this paragraph, u-rah] I stand by my (good natured and polemical) attack on you that you are just propagating military myths about "strength of character" / "strength of mind." To dispel some of these notions, recall Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall’s report about WWII engagements where only 15% to 20% of the men actually fire their weapons. The book "On Killing," by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman also provides research on the psychological factors that explain why soldiers, despite direct orders to do so, are reluctant to kill. The point is that the military must distort ("train") the typical man's or woman's mind to go against their nature to fulfill the military mission.

Fourth, the military justice system is not "fair" to people with varying degrees of mental disorders. If by "fair" you mean that they are duly prosecuted because they do not meet the high legal burden of not knowing right from wrong, then, well, OK, I guess that's "fair." Should we break open the champaigne?

However, the military borrows this legal standard of sanity from civilian law, while hypocritically proclaiming in most of its other jurisprudence that it is "a specialized society." Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733 (1974). So, the "system" takes people away from civilian life and places them in inherently stressful situations, away from customary family and friendship ties, with little support, and does not even conceive of a military standard for evaluating their culpability for crimes under "military" conditions of mental duress. For an analogue, think of the justification for the Chaplain corps (in the face of church/state challenges): to provide spiritual support for deployed soldiers and sailors given the unique demands of military life. Spiritual support: yes. Psychological support: not really. At least not to the extent of proactive support programs, having at least as many psychs as prosecutors, providing real expert assistance to accuseds facing charges returning from a war-zone, etc.

So, no Anonymous, I don't buy your attack on 1LT Whiteside and her CDC on behalf of "Team America." Stories like this will keep adding up and these strange and curious crimes will keep occuring. Hopefully, the alarm bell will go off and somebody at the top with some sense of humanity will think like a policy-maker and not like a prosecutor.

The military justice "system" is NOT "fair" to servicemembers with mental disorders.

1stLt Jonathan Kendrick said...

From the WaPo article, it would appear that she had a 706, and it found that although she had a mental disease or defect, she was still responsible for her actions. So I don't see any legit mental capacity defense there. Nevertheless, I can't imagine she would get a punitive discharge out of it.

But what I thought was particularly stupid about the article, was how it painted her as a combat hero for handing out gasmasks to subordinates and telling them to do a job they already knew how to do during the potential attack on her secured base.

At the end of the day, she was an officer who failed in her mission to lead her troops. And no amount of spin or medical excuses can ever change that hard fact.

And what is truly sad, is that her shortcomings are emblematic of the entire Army Reserve community.

Big Daddy Longstroke said...

1lt kendrick,

1) You're a tool.

2) Your attack on reserve servicemembers is appalling. It, alone, shows to me you are unworthy of any substantive response.

3) So, suck it.

No Man said...

Thank you Positive K for your comments. Let's keep everything positive here.

Anonymous said...

The article indicated that "Her attorney also believed that she would have been left without the medical care and benefits she needed." I really hope the attorney properly informed LT Whiteside of what benefits she would be eligible for, particularly in light of the Supreme Court's recent grant on an IAC claim for failure to properly advice a DP client pretrial.

1stLt Jonathan Kendrick said...

"Bigdaddylongstroke" (a little bit of overcompensation in that name, eh??)...Although you are appalled, that is entirely irrelevant to the correctness of my statements. Unless, however, you are someone of authority.

But in that regard, I have two books at my bedside: the Marine Corps Code of Conduct and the King James Bible. The only proper authorities I am aware of are my commanding officer Colonel Nathan R. Jessup and the Lord our God.

Nathan Jessup said...

This authority, Lt, says your attack on reservists is appalling AND incorrect.