Sunday, February 03, 2008

WaPo editorial on United States v. Whiteside

Today's Washington Post includes an editorial headlined "Military Justice," with this subhead: "Why did it take a near-tragedy for the Army to do the right thing in the Whiteside case?" Here's a link. We previously discussed the Whiteside case here, here, here, and here.

The Post writes: "Distraught about her legal limbo, [1LT Whiteside] attempted suicide last Monday, and, with The Post again looking into the circumstances, the charges were finally dropped." The Post concludes: "The mishandling of this case is indicative of a military culture dismissive of psychiatric ills as real sickness. Those who seek treatment are too often stigmatized and punished. How else to explain the worry of service members who say they fear being labeled as weak? Think of the message that was sent by the Army's pursuit of Lt. Whiteside and its apparent reluctance to do the right thing."

8 comments:

DB Cooper said...

This young girl certainly deserves our sympathy. But this is WaPo sophistry at its best. There was never a demonstrated link between her service in Iraq and her mental problems. Even in its previous articles, the WaPo cautiously refused to make that connection. Instead, they merely implied the connection, writing that her suicide attempt in Iraq "could have” resulted from her service in Iraq (the most harrowing moment of which was a prison disturbance). But the WaPo now unabashedly states that her second suicide attempt was the result of dilatory decision making in the court-martial process. This overlooks the fact that she previously attempted suicide long before her court-martial. It is not possible, if not very likely, that both her suicide attempts stem from problems that pre-date her service in Iraq? While the military has not adequately addressed the problem of combat related mental disorders, it is reckless and unfair to lay blame at the feet of the Army or the MJ system in this particular instance.

DB Cooper said...

Hope I am not breaking any CAAFlog conventions by doing this, but I found an unusually lucid comment posted among the usual hysterical flotsam in the WaPo online comments section. Since I can’t link directly to it, here it is en toto:

ChesDead wrote:
So, a male reporter with a good record at the Post, but with a history of depression, has an argument with a supervisor while under pressure to meet a deadline. He suffers a “psychotic break,” pulls a gun and threatens another supervisor, firing it into the ceiling. When other reporters approach he threatens to kill them and then turns the gun on himself. He is taken into custody and subsequently diagnosed with a “severe major depressive disorder and a personality disorder.”
Would the Post declare that this case should be handled outside the DC judicial system and that the perpetrator be remanded to outpatient care? Would the Post argue against any charges despite a question about the perpetrator’s ability at the time to distinguish right from wrong? Would the Post rail against the DC court system because it was taking to long drop any charges? No institutionalization? No agonizing over whether there were signs before the pistol waving at others (remember the Virginia Tech shooter)? Any concern about future episodes? Any ability to relate this to other workplace episodes of violence? Any comparisons to the civilian world?
It’s a classic example of biased reporting that seeks to spin the sad tale of one individual’s mental illness into a broad condemnation of the military and the Iraq War.
Whiteside is mentally ill and her condition predates her Iraq service.
The recent retelling of this tale by Priest and Hull, as a hook to a story on military suicides, suffers from reportorial hype and omissions. This is advocacy journalism. It’s why the language keeps changing to characterize Whiteside as a sympathetic and innocent victim of an uncaring and pitiless Army. Whiteside’s descent into mental illness is sad, but that doesn’t make the Army responsible for her condition. Nor is the Army responsible for her actions.
Priest and Hull make no claim or provide evidence of PTSD and this time around downplay the fact that Whiteside was a desk-bound support officer in a secured rear base. She was never in combat. She was in Iraq probably less than 14 weeks, though Priest and Hull avoid mentioning that as it is inconvenient information to the storyline. Whiteside knew she had a problem, but refused to seek help and instead self-medicated. Her “psychotic break” could have just as easily occurred stateside.
The reporters are aware of this but deceptively try to suggest her condition is rooted in Iraq by claiming that she was “repeatedly harassed by one of her commanders, which disturbed her greatly, according to an Army investigation.” And, “on Jan. 1, 2007, weary from helping to quell riots in the prison after the execution of Saddam Hussein, Whiteside had a mental breakdown.” In December, Priest and Hull wrote “she dispatched a pair of medics to each compound to begin triage, handed out gas masks and organized her unit to smuggle the prison's doctors out in an ambulance.” She helped quell riots the same way a police dispatcher helps quell crime.
Now Priest and Hull claim that Whiteside was “harassed by one of her commanders,” but in December they stated, “From the beginning, Whiteside and some of her female soldiers had conflicts with one of the company's male officers. They believed he hindered female promotions and undercut Whiteside's authority with her soldiers, according to Army investigative documents.” Like this has never happened in civilian life! Did any other of Whiteside’s female soldiers have a “psychotic break” over arguments with the XO?” Did the female officer who Whiteside threatened with a loaded pistol have a “psychotic break?” How about the nurses Whiteside threatened to kill?
The Army has decided not to prosecute Whiteside, which is the most equitable decision given that her mental illness may itself be a lifetime sentence. And, now the Post is taking credit without knowing whether this would have been the Army’s decision regardless of the Post’s advocacy.
The Post can spin whatever stories it wants to target the military or the Iraq War, but readers would be better served by a willingness to present the facts honestly and completely without the spin and omissions necessary to make this fit the reporters’ bias.

Anonymous said...

DB: ChesDead is a hysterical "Army does not wrong" hack. Even putting the Whiteside case aside, suicide rates are accelerating - the WP numbers don't even include the vets now off active duty. So I applaud the WP for "advocacy journalism"...because I don't see many in the military advocating for mental health.

Were we supposed to hum "God Bless America" while reading Chesdead's piece? His civilian analogy breaks down from the getgo because the Army gave Whiteside her gun...it would indeed be quite different if a civilian showed up to work with a gun. But the direct answer to Chesdead's challenge is yes - outpatient treatement - perhaps after the standard 5 day observation and interview period (long since elapsed, here). And maybe the WP would have paid for the psych treatment - unlike the cutoff of treatment flowing from a punitive discharge.

Maybe ChesDead also supported General Patton's WWII slap. "The spin and omissions" - by the way - are the stuff that started this war in the first place and the malarkey that about everything being done to help our vets.

Chesdead is nothing more than the next-door neighbor, Col Frank Fitts, USMC, in "American Beauty."

Anonymous said...

Why is anyone with a different perspective always labeled a "hack" in this blog? Can't you argue your position without resorting to name-calling?

Christopher Mathews said...

I was a little perturbed by what seemed to be the Post taking credit for the decision not to prosecute Whiteside. In fact, that decision flowed from the military justice process as it was intended to work: the IO took evidence at the Article 32 hearing, made a recommendation based on that evidence, and the convening authority rendered a decision based on that recommendation and the advice of his SJA. To the extent ChesDead finds the Post's reportage a bit too overblown and self-congratulatory, I agree.

It's disingenuous, however, to hypothetically compare (as ChesDead does) the Post's presumed reaction to a workplace shooting with the reaction of the government. We hope that private actors, such as an employer, will exercise good judgment in such situations; we expect it of the government (although that expectation is often in vain, I'll admit).

So without knowing ChesDead personally, I'd be willing to say that the initial part of his comment was pure sophistry, if not outright hackery.

John O'Connor said...

I agree with the first paragraph of Christopher Mathews's comment.

What ILT Whiteside did was serious business, whether it was criminal or not (based on a potential insanity defense). I don't think you can fault the military leadership for trying to sort out whether this was a triable offense or not through an Article 32. What alternative would the Post prefer? That the CA just "assume" what the proper disposition is without examining the facts?

I also don't agree with the WaPo commentator that the potential slant in the WaPo reporting is a simple case of anti-Iraq war advocacy journalism. The WaPo editorial board criticized the military over this but has actually been a pretty consistent defender of the Iraq invasion. I think their editorial here is wrong but I don't think it's motivated by anti-Iraq war animus.

Christopher Mathews said...

Thanks, JO'C. I feel as though I've just been affirmed on other grounds ;-)

Anonymous said...

As the anonymous who attacked ChesDead, I called him a "hack" because I read his piece as a diversionary attack on the Washington Post...a not uncommon method among (usually right wing)advocates of attack the messenger. The issue was how seriously the military takes the issue of mental health.

I guess calling him a "hack" was a personal attack - but its an insult somewhat limited to the context of his argument and also a personal attack on a fictitious person - a pseudonym.

I will just be a bit leary, however, if ChesDead shows up in my garage in the rain. I've met these types of military-does-no-wrong people before, and there is usually some defect lurking beneath the military creases.