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US Papers Wed: GIs' Psych Care in Spotlight
Papers Query Mental Health of Alleged Shooter; Military to Probe Care System
By GREG HOADLEY 05/13/2009 02:28 AM ET
Monday's shooting rampage in Baghdad that left five US service personnel dead, allegedly at the hands of one lone US soldier, continues to dominate the Iraq-based news today, as the military reveals the identity of the alleged shooter, a 44-year-old man from Texas with no prior history of psychological distress.

The US military will launch a probe into its mental health care system for soldiers deployed in war zones, in the aftermath of a shooting incident on Monday in which a US soldier allegedly killed five of his fellow service members at Baghdad’s Camp Liberty. Ernesto Londono writes in the Post that the alleged shooter has been identified as “Sgt. John M. Russell, 44, of Sherman, Tex. Russell, a communications specialist with the 54th Engineer Battalion, based in Bamberg, Germany,” and that Russell “has been charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.” The top US military spokesperson in Baghdad said that Russell had been referred to counseling the week before, The Post reporter writes. Maj. Gen. David Perkins said on Tuesday that Sgt. Russell’s commanders had confiscated his weapon as a precautionary measure, out of concerns that the soldier was facing psychological difficulties. “Besides the standard criminal investigation, Perkins said, top military commanders have ordered a wide-ranging probe to determine whether there are enough mental health resources for troops serving in combat zones and whether screening and treatment are adequate,” Londono writes.

In the Journal, Gina Chon and Yochi Dreazen write that Russell allegedly grabbed the weapon of a soldier that escorted him from a Baghdad mental counseling center before heading back into the center to carry out the shootings that killed four soldiers and a naval officer. The 44-year old had seen tours in Serbia and Bosnia before deploying to Iraq, the WSJ reporters write, adding that a military officer familiar with Russell’s file said that the soldier’s record showed no indication that he posed such a threat. The suspect remains in custody at Camp Liberty near Baghdad.

James Dao and Lisette Alvarez focus their Times piece on Russell’s mental health situation, writing that Wilburn Russell, the alleged shooter’s father, in Texas, told reporters that his son had recently angered a commanding officer by “threatening” him. The officer in turn reportedly confiscated Russell’s weapons and ordered him to counselling, which Russell’s father said led to his son’s nervous conviction that the military was moving to discharge him. “If a guy actually goes to the clinic and asks for help, they think of him as a wimp and he’s got something wrong with him and try to get rid of him,” Mr. (Wilburn) Russell said. “Well, he didn’t go and ask voluntarily for help. They scheduled him in, and they set him up. They drove him out. They wanted to put as much pressure on him as they could to drum him out.” Russell’s father goes on to say: “I think they broke him,” the Times reporters write.

In the Post, Martin Weil profiles one of the five victims in the shooting, a 19-year-old from Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Developments in the north of Iraq dominate Campbell Robertson's report in the Times. Tensions have flared in Mosul as over 1,000 Arab tribesmen gathered before the provincial administration buildings demanding that Kurdish militia forces exit the province. The Pesh Merga paramilitary presence has angered Arab residents of Ninewa Province, while Kurdish leaders insisted that the militia, who do not recognize the authority of the newly elected provincial government, would not redeploy. Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded in the disputed city of Kirkuk, killing seven and wounding 18. Finally, the Islamic State of Iraq, the shadowy umbrella organization that includes the al-Qa'ida in Iraq organization, released an audio recording claiming to disprove Iraqi government assertions that its alleged leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi had been captured.

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