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Military Report On Iraq Stress Clinic Killing Spree: Soldier Showed Obvious Signs Of Unraveling

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BAGHDAD — The soldier at the center of the military's worst soldier-on-soldier violence in six years had gone to four counseling sessions. His rifle had been disabled out of fear for his safety. He'd even asked military police to take him into custody, saying "I'm done."

Despite these warnings, a military investigation found that he still managed to steal an automatic weapon and kill five people at a base counseling center.

A report from the investigation concluded that while the soldier had received assistance, there were key lapses in how the military monitored him and how authorities responded once the shooting began at Camp Liberty, a sprawling base on the edge of Baghdad.

Sgt. John M. Russell, 44, who was taken into custody and faces five murder counts, is the only person charged in the shootings. The incident has highlighted the issue of combat stress as troops increasingly serve multiple combat tours because the nation's volunteer army is stretched thin by two long-running wars.

The 325-page report, released Friday and obtained by The Associated Press Tuesday, includes detailed witness statements and describes the unraveling of a soldier less than two months before the end of his third deployment.

While all the names, including Russell's have been removed from the report, it refers to the person taken into custody as well as his unit, the 54th Engineer Battalion.

The internal investigation was ordered by Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, to determine if policies regarding service members at risk of hurting themselves or others were properly followed and whether they were adequate, said military spokesman Lt. Col. David Patterson.

A criminal investigation by the military is ongoing.

Elizabeth Ann Russell, the mother of the accused, told the AP she had no comment. In previous interviews, Russell's father has questioned whether his son snapped under questioning by counselors, or feared that his career was over.

Russell is in pretrial confinement at the Butner Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, said Maj. Mike Garcia, spokesman at Fort Lewis, Washington, where Russell's unit is based. He's undergoing medical treatment right now with the goal of improving his condition so he can participate in a planned court martial, Garcia said.

Dozens of pages were redacted from the report, which was posted on the Web site of the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq. The military in Iraq has already implemented some of the investigation's recommendations, Patterson said.

The report describes a man whose problems were known and who received some counseling, yet at critical times did not appear to get the help he needed.

"He was counseled and transported to Behavior Health appointments. His duties were adjusted at the platoon/company level. His company officers and NCOs were involved. Yet these efforts were not sufficient. Why?" the report read.

Russell, who faces charges of murder and aggravated assault, was on his fourth visit to a mental health clinic in Iraq when the appointment was cut short because he became uncooperative, the report stated. The military police were called in and ordered him returned to his unit.

Less than an hour later, he grabbed an M-16 rifle from a fellow soldier, stole a white Ford Explorer SUV and went back to the counseling facility, the report read. As the shooting began, a soldier in another room of the counseling facility reported hearing repeated gunshots and scrambled out a window to safety.

Witness reports taken from military police, medical personnel and others, describe Russell as paranoid and angry in the days leading up to the shooting, and say his behavior was "deteriorating."

According to one statement, Russell, who spent one of his tours in Ramadi during some of the fiercest fighting there, "could not trust anyone and wished his life was over."

On the morning of the shooting, he was taken by a member of his unit to the counseling center, according to the report. Although the unit took this step and knew of Russell's suicidal thoughts days prior to the incident, little appeared to have been done to effectively monitor him, the report found.

"There is no clear procedure or established training guidelines in any of the references for managing soldiers identified as 'at risk' for suicide or the proper way to conduct suicide watch," the report stated.

According to the statement of one of the military police officers involved in the incident, he asked Russell's company commander whether the sergeant had been on "unit watch."

The company commander replied that Sullivan's roommate had tried to keep an eye on him, but that they didn't have a 24-hour watch on him until the morning of the shootings.

"I asked him why ... he replied: 'I know this sounds bad but we don't have the personnel available,'" the military police officer's statement read.

A breakdown in communication also contributed to the deadly series of events. One section of the report describes how units responding, instead of reacting immediately, had to meet up in person to coordinate their actions because radio communication was poor.

Additionally, nobody alerted the counseling clinic that Russell had stolen a weapon and a vehicle, the report said.

Although Russell told several people – including a chaplain and a worker at the counseling clinic – he was contemplating suicide, others appeared to have doubts about the seriousness of the situation.

The report was also critical of the military police who responded to the incident, saying they did not have enough policies to "warn and protect possible victims when informed of a credible threat."


Associated Press Writers Kimberly Hefling and Pauline Jelinek in Washington and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.


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