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U.S. military warned of problems by soldier charged in five slayings

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 had 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.

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.

A criminal investigation by the military is ongoing.

Russell is in pretrial confinement at the Butner Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C., said Maj. Mike Garcia, spokesman at Fort Lewis, Wash., where Russell's unit is based.

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.

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."

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U.S. military warned of problems by soldier charged in five slayings 10/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 11:46pm]

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