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Soldier Diagnosed With Mental Problems

By RYAN LENZ
The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 9, 2007; 3:51 PM

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- An Army private charged with the slaughter of an Iraqi family was diagnosed as a homicidal threat by a military mental health team three months before the attack.

Pfc. Steven D. Green was found to have "homicidal ideations" after seeking help from an Army Combat Stress Team in Iraq on Dec. 21, 2005. Green said he was angry about the war, desperate to avenge the death of comrades and driven to kill Iraqi citizens, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.

The treatment was several small doses of Seroquel _ a drug to regulate his mood _ and a directive to get some sleep, according to medical records obtained by the AP. The next day, he returned to duty in the particularly violent stretch of desert in the southern Baghdad suburbs known as the "Triangle of Death."

No follow-up exams or further treatments were scheduled, records indicate. But Green had a conversation with his battalion commander one month after the examination in which he expressed hatred for all Iraqis.

On March 12, 2006, Iraqi police reported a break-in at the home of a family in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles from Baghdad. The intruders shot and killed the father, mother and two young daughters. The older girl, 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, was raped and her body set afire.

The carnage first was assumed to be the work of insurgents. That changed in late June when two members of Green's unit told their superiors of suspicions that soldiers were involved in the killings. Now the Army believes Green and four other soldiers are responsible. One of them has confessed and provided information to prosecutors; in testimony at his court-martial, the soldier identified Green as the ringleader.

If the charges are true, the attack would be among the most horrific instances of criminal behavior by American troops in the nearly four-year-old war. It also would represent a worst-case scenario for the military's much-criticized practice of keeping mentally and emotionally unfit personnel in the killing fields of Iraq.

Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, psychiatry consultant to the Army Surgeon General, would not specifically discuss Green when contacted by the AP. She did defend the military's policies regarding the treatment of emotionally or psychologically distressed soldiers.

"If unresponsive to treatment and/or a persistent danger to self or others, they will be evacuated," Ritchie said in an e-mail.

The 101st Airborne Division declined to comment on Green, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss an ongoing federal case. An Army spokesman at the Pentagon did not return calls.

The Army and the Marines, who have the most personnel on the ground in Iraq, have been faulted for the manner in which troops with mental and emotional difficulties are being treated.

Sending troops already in Iraq who have been diagnosed with mental illness back to combat duty _ often under medication that has not been prescribed long enough to have provided relief _ has been a particular criticism.

The Army has estimated that one in six soldiers in Iraq suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Few are treated adequately or allowed to return home, according to a May 2006 study by the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO report also found military mental health clinicians often fail to know what factors qualify a soldier for discharge or further treatment.

Other reports have criticized the military for failing to adhere to its own policies regarding the testing of troops before they are deployed. Green's medical reports show he suffered from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and was given the stimulant methylphenidate through the eighth grade. He told doctors it made him feel "wired." The disorder can disqualify a person if the recruit had been taking medication for it in the 12 months preceding enlistment.

Green has been charged with the murders and rape and pleaded not guilty in federal court in Kentucky. He is being tried in federal court because his arrest came after he had been discharged from the Army. Three others face the same charges and will be court-martialed.

From interviews with people who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by the military to discuss the case, and from viewing the Army's medical and investigative records, the AP also has learned:

_ Three months passed without Army doctors and clinicians from the Combat Stress Team having any contact with Green. He was summoned for a second examination on March 20, 2006 _ eight days after the killing of the family. Commanders heard reports Green had thrown a puppy from the roof of a building and then set the animal on fire while on patrol. Green was diagnosed as having an anti-social personality disorder and declared unfit for service. The process of discharging him began a week later and he was sent home.

_ The Army's own investigation of Green's initial treatment, prompted by concerns he and others would use mental health problems as a defense in trial, is highly critical. Among the most salient findings from a July review of Green's treatment: "Although a safety assessment was conducted, there is no safety plan addressing how Soldier (Green) will keep from acting on his homicidal thoughts."

_ Lt. Col. Elizabeth Bowler, a psychiatrist and Army reservist from California who took over the Combat Stress Team with Green's unit in January, recommended his discharge after the second examination in March. Yet she wrote a final evaluation that said Green exhibited no traits that would indicate dangerously erratic or homicidal moods, according to documents viewed by The AP.

Steven Green was not a dominating personality while growing up in Texas. His schoolmates in Midland had a nickname for the lanky kid: The Drifter.

He was an unpredictable boy from a broken home. After his arrest, classmates said they recalled him crushing soda cans on his forehead until he bled. He would dance wildly to get attention, they said.

His Army medical reports note several arrests as a juvenile for possession of marijuana, assault and violating his probation.

Green received a high-school equivalency degree in 2003 and bounced from town to town in Texas before joining the Army in 2005.

He deployed to Iraq in September 2005 from Fort Campbell with a battalion from the 101st Airborne Division's 502nd Infantry Regiment. The unit was charged with security operations and assisting Iraqi army units in the "Triangle of Death."

Explosions were frequent, especially from bombs placed along winding roads that connected Mahmoudiya, Youssifiyah and Latifiyah _ the three cities that give the triangle its name. U.S. forces routinely came under fire as they patrolled.

The casualty numbers reflected the tough duty: Thirty-eight soldiers from Green's regiment were killed during its 13-month deployment, and roughly half of the more than 1,000 soldiers in his battalion sought help for mental health problems, according to Army records.

Eleven days before Green's first visit with the stress team in December 2005, he and five others were manning a checkpoint when an Iraqi civilian approached, according to testimony in military hearings. The civilian was familiar because of his status as a sometimes informant. He greeted the soldiers warmly before pulling a pistol from his belt and shooting two of them at point-blank range.

Staff Sgt. Travis L. Nelson, 41, was shot in the face and died immediately. Sgt. Kenith Casica, 32, whose frequent jokes endeared him to the troops, also was hit.

Casica died beneath Green on the hood of a Humvee as the soldiers raced to a field hospital miles away.

Green's behavior worsened after that, according to commanders. He was belligerent and undisciplined. He grew confrontational with superiors and fellow soldiers. He wore his pants low and cocked his hat to the side when not on patrol. He was directed to visit doctors a second time.

Before that examination, however, Green's platoon was ordered to investigate the murder of the family, which the Army believed was the work of insurgents. When he met again with the combat stress team on March 20, Green said he couldn't forget seeing the bodies in the house.

In a questionnaire, he described his mood as erratic and said he thought of killing "all Iraqi nationals."

"It's good a lot and then it flips to where I don't care and I want to kill all the Hajj," Green wrote, using soldier slang for Iraqis.

Green said that he had hallucinations and that his fellow soldiers had grown concerned for his well-being. Doctors gave Green a prescription for Ambien to help him sleep and Lexapro to improve his mood. Eight days later, Bowler told commanders that Green was unfit for service, according to documents.

There is no evidence that Green's discharge resulted from concerns he was involved in the murder of the family. Bowler did not respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

The discharge was concluded in May 2006. It included a contention from Lt. Col. Thomas Kunk, Green's battalion commander, that the Army failed to identify "pre-enlistment personality problems in time to effect obtaining proper treatment for Private Green," according to documents viewed by the AP.

The Pentagon issued new guidelines in November that prevent personnel with certain pre-existing mental problems from deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan. Clinicians evaluating whether a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is fit for service are now required to review all medical records. Mental illnesses that are not expected to be resolved in one year will be cause for discharge.

The Army's hearings on the family's murder concluded in August. Those who testified put forth this outline of the crime:

The plot to rape and kill was hatched as the soldiers hit golf balls at a checkpoint. They had seen the older daughter on patrols in the area. After drinking whiskey bought from Iraqi policemen, they masked their faces and crept through backyards in afternoon daylight to get to the family's home.

They knew the family kept a gun in one bedroom for protection.

Once in the house, Green herded the father, mother and 5-year-old daughter to another room, closed the door and shot them dead. Green had blood on his clothes and boots when he returned.

Green and at least two others took turns raping the other daughter before killing her with the family's AK-47. They set her body on fire with kerosene dumped from a lamp in the kitchen in an effort to hide evidence.

Steven Green is in custody at an undisclosed location in Kentucky, according to federal law-enforcement officials. Prosecutors have not said if they will seek the death penalty.

Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 22, of Chambersburg, Pa.; Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, of Barstow, Calif., and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, 23, of Huffman, Texas, have been charged with rape and murder and await courts-martial. They are in custody at Fort Campbell.

Spc. James P. Barker, 24, of Fresno, Calif., pleaded guilty in November as part of an agreement to testify against the others. In a confession before a military judge, Barker, who is being held at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, described the rape, Green's role and his own mental state when Green approached him with the idea of the attack.

Lt. Col. Richard Anderson, the military judge hearing that case, asked Barker why he agreed to participate.

"I hated Iraqis, your honor," Barker replied. "They can smile at you then shoot you in your face without even thinking about it."

© 2007 The Associated Press