Friday, July 07, 2006

Putting The Pieces Together

Steven Green, the former U.S. soldier arrested yesterday for the rape of a young Iraqi woman and the murder of her entire family, received a medical discharge from the service based on a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder.

ASPD is defined as "a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others," including failure to obey rules or laws, excessive temper or aggression, poor planning, impulsive behavior, an inability to meet basic social demands, and - probably most importantly - a lack of remorse. The diagnosis subsumes, but is not synonymous with, the much more serious diagnosis of psychopathy - true consciencelessness, the inability to empathize with others, and a consistent, remorseless tendency to manipulate, use, and hurt other people to meet one's desired ends.

All cracks about the inability to distinguish ASPD from proper soldierly behavior aside (and please keep them aside, because I don't want to hear them), soldiers with ASPD or psychopathy are a disaster for any military organization. To meet criteria for the diagnosis, these characteristics have to be general, inflexible, and persistent across contexts and situations. In other words, it's not possible to aim the person's psychopathy at the enemy and yet be able to trust them at home. They don't adhere to discipline or obey military regulations. They exploit and fight with their comrades as well as the enemy. No officer or NCO wants to be responsible for them. Many police forces screen candidates for psychopathy; they make terrible cops for many of the same reasons that they make terrible soldiers.

So, on the one hand, this analyst's comment is totally plausible:
Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Washington-based Lexington Institute, said it is standard practice to discharge soldiers whose profiles suggest they are incapable of maintaining military discipline.

"Despite all the stories about the military having trouble recruiting, it is considered anathema to retain somebody like that," said Thompson.
And yet. Something about this story just doesn't pass the smell test for me.

ASPD is not something one suddenly develops at Green's age. To qualify for the diagnosis, significant symptoms have to have been present prior to age 15, and the person has to have a substantial track record of failure to meet basic social standards in a variety of settings. It's true that the Army has historically been a common destination for young men like that - families, and judges, have often reasoned that a heavy dose of military discipline will straighten them out. Green's family seems to have thought so as well. But the pattern of behavior that constitutes ASPD, or psychopathy, has to have been in place at the time that he entered into military service, by diagnostic definition. If he was constitutionally incapable of conforming to military discipline, that should have been evident to his commanders by the end of boot camp, at the latest.

Plenty of guys with ASPD-like symptoms enlist. Some of them are kicked out early for "failure to adjust to military service." Some of them are "administratively separated" for problems like drug use, or receive bad conduct discharges. Not many of them get a medical discharge for being antisocial. This table demonstrates that even for servicemembers who have personality disorders bad enough to require hospitalization, only 40% wind up being discharged for that disorder. (That's all personality disorders considered together - not just ASPD. And some of the other disorders, like Borderline PD, which often involves suicide attempts, seem likely to account for more of the medical, as opposed to punitive, discharges.) And that was in 1998, well before the current desperate drive to hold onto soldiers.

I asked the Respectful of Otters Military Advisory Board, who seemed to have a pretty clear mental picture of what kind of soldier Green would have been. "Why a medical discharge, and not some kind of bad conduct discharge?" "Probably because they wanted to get him out of there as fast as possible, and a medical discharge was the quickest option."

So here we have a guy who, by diagnostic definition, had a pattern of disregarding the rights of others and failing to conform to authority or social expectations for years. And nonetheless he was retained in military service for a year. In March, in the company of other soldiers, he raped and murdered a young woman and killed her entire family. In April, he was pulled out of Iraq, and in May - apparently without any kind of court martial charges or major disciplinary action - he was officially declared to be so antisocial that he was no longer suitable for service. And yet, supposedly, the military didn't learn of the rape and murder until last month.

If no one was aware of his crimes, what happened to precipitate his discharge, by the quickest and quietest means possible? Something doesn't add up.

Edited to add: Just to clarify, I think there are three possibilities.

1. The Army just got tired of his general disregard for rules and discipline and sent him for a psych eval, thus landing him the ASPD diagnosis. By sheer coincidence, this happened just after he had committed a horrific war crime, unbeknownst to them.

2. On some level, his superiors were aware that he had committed a horrific war crime. That was the precipitating factor for the ASPD diagnosis. He was medically discharged rather than investigated and prosecuted.

3. His superiors didn't know about his horrific war crime. However, he did something else that was awful - not necessarily another war crime, but some notable breach of discipline or crime against a fellow soldier - and that was the precipitating factor for the ASPD diagnosis.