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When the Army Uses “Enhanced Interrogation” on an American Soldier

Joshua Kors | The Nation | April 14, 2010

I had been covering veterans’ issues for several years and thought I’d developed a thick skin. But the pain on the other end of the telephone line was difficult to stomach. Sergeant Chuck Luther, now back from Iraq, was describing his journey to hell and back. The worst part, he said, wasn’t battling insurgents or even the mortar blast that tossed him to the ground and slammed his head against the concrete — it was the way he was treated by the U.S. Army when he went to the aid station and sought medical help.

In gruesome detail, Luther described what happened to him at Camp Taji’s aid station. He thought he would receive medical care. Instead he was confined to an isolation chamber and held there for over a month, under enforced sleep deprivation, until he agreed to sign papers saying that he was ill before coming to Iraq and thus not eligible for disability and medical benefits. “They wanted me to say I had a ‘personality disorder,'” Luther told me.

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Luther’s call did not come out of the blue. For two years I had been investigating this personality disorder scandal: how military doctors were purposely misdiagnosing soldiers, wounded in combat, as having this pre-existing mental illness. As in the civilian world, where people can be locked out of the insurance system if they have a pre-existing condition, soldiers whose wounds can be attributed to a pre-existing illness can be denied disability benefits and long-term medical care.

My reporting began with the case of Specialist Jon Town, who was wounded in Iraq, won a Purple Heart and was then denied disability and medical benefits. Town’s doctor had concluded that his headaches and hearing loss were not caused by the 107-millimeter rocket that knocked him unconscious but by a pre-existing personality disorder.

The spotlight on Town prompted military doctors to step forward and talk about being pressured by their superiors to purposely misdiagnose wounded soldiers. One doctor spoke of a soldier who returned from Iraq with a massive chunk missing from his right leg. The doctor quit after he was pressured to diagnose that soldier as having personality disorder.

Since 2001 more than 22,600 soldiers have been discharged with personality disorder (PD), saving the military billions in disability and medical benefits.

My articles on the scandal sparked a Congressional hearing, a Law and Order episode, and before leaving office, President Bush signed a law requiring the Pentagon to investigate PD discharges. In the wake of those developments, I was flooded with calls from soldiers who had fractured bones and been pierced by grenade shrapnel, only to be told that their wounds came from a problem with their personality — a pre-existing illness that had somehow gone undetected with each military screening and only popped up now, after they returned wounded from combat.

Luther was one of thousands severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan now facing a lifetime without medical care. I had spoken to dozens of soldiers in his shoes. But his call haunted me. He sent me photos of the isolation chamber. It was the size of a walk-in closet and was crammed with cardboard boxes, a desk and a bedpan. Armed guards monitored him 24 hours a day. Luther told me how they stopped him from sleeping, keeping the lights on and blasting heavy metal music at him all through the night: Megadeth, Saliva, Disturbed. When he rebelled, Luther was pinned down and injected with sleeping medication.

“This was an aid station,” he said, “but it felt a lot more like enhanced interrogation than medical care.”

After a month, Luther was willing to sign anything — and did. Soon after he signed his name to a personality disorder discharge, he was whisked back to Fort Hood and informed about a PD discharge’s disastrous consequences. No disability pay, no long-term medical care, and because he didn’t serve out his contract, he’d have to pay back a portion of his signing bonus. “They told me I now owed the Army $1,500.”

I would spend the next two years investigating Luther’s case: reading the stacks of medical records written by Luther’s doctors, which document his confinement; talking with a fellow soldier who visited Luther during his month in the aid station; and interviewing his commander, who confirmed all the details.

April 15, 2010 - Posted by | Subjugation - Torture

10 Comments

  1. Ten years ago I would have been outraged by this story. Now, not so much. What has changed? Me, somewhat, and my country quite a bit more. Don’t get me wrong. Sergeant Luther has my sincere condolences — but what did he expect? Today’s Army is no longer the old American Army of citizen soldiers, the Army of Minutemen leaving their plows and shouldering their muskets to go face red coated invaders. Today’s Army is not even the Army of WWII. Instead, today’s Army is basically an army of mercenaries, soldiers who go to whatever sand pit of a country they get orders for. I see no evidence that they care whether they are engaged in Constitutionally declared wars or in foreign slaughter of people who were never a threat to us. Sorry to be blunt, but the days when the Army was busy actually protecting our freedoms and our Constitution are past. The last two Presidents have violated our freedoms and the Constitution much more than any Iraqi or Afghani ever did but I haven’t seen the Army surround the White House. Soldiers still swear to defend the Constitution, but no one means it. Politicians openly admit they they have instituted large scale illegal wiretapping in violation of the Constitution but no one in the Army says a peep. Our Army no longer protects our freedom or the Constitution. Why should soldiers be surprised when the same sort of illegal treatment is given to THEM? Sorry Sergeant Luther. Tough break. When you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas. What did you expect? Now that you are serving to empower people in Washington who have no scruples, principles or ethics, what did you expect?

    Comment by Jason Calley | April 15, 2010

    • Jason,

      I do concur. This story simply validates or illustrates your point.

      Comment by aletho | April 15, 2010

  2. AMEN to Jason

    Comment by Avery | April 15, 2010

  3. Jason, I am not sure how old you are … but I would like to say that many of the people who are in military really do not believe as you do about the military. Yes, this military is different from WWII and Viet Nam wars … the world and we are different. Technology has exploded. The Catholic Church admits to hiding pedophiles. Child care is only a worthy profession if you are paid to care for someone else’s child even tho research shows it is detrimental in the long term, and we have generations now who’ve grow up institutionalized without mothering. The internet has made everything different. People of all ages sit together and don’t talk or make eye contact while they surf the web. Capitalism is free to seduce our young girls with images of being sexy as early as toddlerhood. The military, like everything else in our society, reflects the changes .. good or bad. I don’t think the young men and women who sign up for the military ever expected to be in war. Why not? They joined the military. We live in a world of numbed, dumbed down UNconscious human beings who are brainwashed to believe the goals of life are the house, the car, the clothes, the big screen tv’s .. all ages. Few people really observe, feel, or see the world as you do .. which I agree with …

    Comment by janel | April 15, 2010

    • “The Catholic Church admits to hiding pedophiles. Child care is only a worthy profession if you are paid to care for someone else’s child even tho research shows it is detrimental in the long term, and we have generations now who’ve grow up institutionalized without mothering. … Capitalism is free to seduce our young girls with images of being sexy as early as toddlerhood.”

      Oh my god! The Childrens are under attack! Man the battle stations, Janel!

      Comment by sage | April 16, 2010

  4. I feel little sympathy for the soldier in question. I understand that he may not have understood what he was getting into when he enlisted, but just the same, he almost certainly DOES have a personality disorder. Men and women who are willing to participate in the orgy of destruction that the US has perpetrated over the last decade can not be “sane” in any meaningful way.
    A man greater than me once said that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. If this is a law of the universe, then this man is probably getting off easy.

    Comment by Jim | April 15, 2010

  5. Since he believed in the official 9/11 story, they certainly knew he was easily manipulated. (I wonder how they’ll draw soldiers in when we have to go to war with a fully industrialized nation gone crazy under Great Depression conditions with stories like that?)

    Comment by Eric Vaughan | April 16, 2010

  6. I completely empathise with Sgt Luthers situation, although my story is less harrowing it still highlights the situation that if you are at the bottom of the pile then you will be treated like shit, even if you protect the status quo through military service. When I left the British army after 17 years service, it was with 2 fractured thoracic vertebae having been ignored and denied proper medical care for over 2 years. Once it was proven beyond any argument that I was injured I was given a medical discharge. When I had complained to the medical officer after my injury he denied me care and I had to soldier on in almost constant pain while he went off on garden leave due to ‘DEPRESSION’. On discharged, my medical file consisted of only 3 sheets of paper, after 17 years and 3 months it should have been 6-7 inches thick. The reason I was given was accidental incineration…sorry. So I left with no proof that I had even incurred an injury let alone have the paper work to make a claim against the Ministry of Defence.
    These days I hold myself lucky to be alive and out of that organisation. I also think that the more people who are abandoned by the system that promises to care for you if you are injured on their watch, the more people there are in the world to warn others not to get involved. Then maybe we will see the end of wars because rich kids wont fight in the shit their fathers created.

    Comment by Guy Jones | April 17, 2010

  7. Amen Jason, 1000% precisely right.

    Comment by Mick | April 17, 2010

  8. […] When the Army Uses “Enhanced Interrogation” on an American Soldier […]

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