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US report details lapses in deadly Iraq shooting

Iraq US Shooting

US report details lapses in deadly Iraq shooting

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.”

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

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Libya says Lockerbie bomber in hospital

Libya Lockerbie

Libya says Lockerbie bomber in hospital

TRIPOLI, Libya – A Libyan official said the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing has been hospitalized and television footage showed him breathing through an oxygen mask, signs his illness from cancer may be worsening shortly after his early prison release sparked international outrage.

The Libyan Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mohammed Siala, said Monday that Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was in the hospital and described him as a “dying man.”

“He is in the hospital, he is a dying man, it is normal than he came to spend his last few days in Libya,” Siala told The Associated Press.

His comments came after Britain’s Channel 4 television Sunday night showed footage of the 57-year-old al-Megrahi in a Tripoli hospital bed propped up by pillows and wearing an oxygen mask while some members of his family stood nearby. A reporter can be heard asking al-Megrahi a question about his case but al-Megrahi appears too weak to answer.

Al-Megrahi was convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground. Scotland released him Aug. 20 on compassionate grounds because doctors said he was dying of prostate cancer.

His release and return to Libya where he was greeted warmly at the airport by hundreds of cheering supporters has led to outrage from many of the Lockerbie victims and questions about whether his release was secured in order to facilitate lucrative oil trade with Libya.

Both Britain and Scotland have denied that business had anything to do with allowing al-Megrahi to leave prison after completing only eight years of his life sentence.

There was no way to independently verify al-Megrahi’s condition, and the Libyan official offered no further details. Al-Megrahi underwent extensive medical testing before Scottish officials confirmed his cancer diagnosis, but questions have been raised about the seriousness of his condition.

The London-based Asharq Al-Awssat newspaper last Wednesday quoted al-Megrahi’s father as saying that the former Libyan inmate was not dying.

“It is not that serious as some news media have been portraying,” Ali al-Megrahi told the newspaper. “I see he is improving day by day, and he is better than the day he returned.”

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