Mark Benjamin’s story “Military Injustice” chronicles one soldier’s personal battle with the military he dedicated 16 years of his life to serving. His heartbreaking story shows a web of deceipt and the frightening reality of unchecked power. At a time when our government is espousing the “spread of democracy” and the need for extending the powers of the Patriot Act, Lt. Goodrum’s story chilled me to the core.
Iraq vet Jullian Goodrum blasted his superiors for misdeeds that he says cost a soldier his life. His reward: The Army he once loved refused to treat his psychological wounds, then charged him with desertion.
It has been a year and a half since Goodrum, back from Iraq and haunted by suicidal thoughts and flashbacks related to his time there, checked himself into a civilian psychiatric hospital in Knoxville, Tenn., after being turned away from a military hospital. The Army subsequently accused him of desertion, which can mean six years in the military’s Fort Leavenworth, Kan., prison. Goodrum fought back, but he had no idea then what he was up against.
On April 1, after he’d been fighting the desertion case for 18 months, the Army found Goodrum innocent of being absent without leave, or AWOL. But the ordeal took a toll. Goodrum’s 16-year career in the military is over — he wants out. “Why would I serve a military that betrayed me?” he asks. He is $40,000 in debt from legal fees, and his relationship with his fiancée has suffered under the stress. The cause of his original hospitalization was post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his war experiences — a diagnosis confirmed four times, three times by military doctors. But instead of improving, some of his symptoms have worsened as a result of his protracted legal battle.
You go to war with the army you have. Apparently, after 16 years in the Army and witnessing in Iraq what Secretary Rumsfeld has not, Lt. Goodrum disagreed.
Goodrum’s troubles with the military justice system started after he became a whistleblower. After he returned from Iraq, Goodrum complained to his superior officers that his unit had been sent to war with an appalling lack of equipment, including broken, unarmored vehicles. When his complaints were ignored, he went to his Congress member and to the press. He also complained about the poor medical care he received when he came back. Now, he is convinced the charge of being absent without leave for getting medical care from a civilian doctor is retribution from the Army, which he claims closed ranks and blackballed him.
“They chose a pattern,” Goodrum says. “They denied me healthcare and told me to leave. You can hear it in their own testimony. I think it was just abuse of authority and being vindictive.”
Bringing in the feds. After denying Lt. Goodrum medical care, “The Army claimed Goodrum was a deserter because when he was in the civilian psychiatric hospital in Knoxville he was absent from Fort Knox without permission.” When the AWOL charges were refuted by the Army’s own regulations, they took another tact with the help of federal prosecutors.
On March 3, documents from an FBI database show, Fort Knox officials asked federal prosecutors to troll the FBI’s National Crime Information Center for any criminal history for Goodrum. On March 4, Fort Knox deputy staff judge advocate Brian Corneilson forwarded to Army prosecutors in Washington the results of that FBI search and noted his suspicion that Goodrum might be a drug dealer. “Results of NCIC check received by Fort Knox indicates an individual (with a different name) with the same height, weight, hair color, social security number, but not eye color, as Goodrum was sale and delivery of Schedule IV substance on 9, Feb. 2001 in Clinton TN,” Corneilson wrote. Corneilson added that Clinton is “just outside of Knoxville,” near Goodrum’s home.
But a review of the FBI data pulled by Corneilson shows that the individual in question had not only a different eye color but also a different Social Security number and birth date. And Goodrum’s service records indicate that a conviction for drug dealing in February 2001 was unlikely, since the Army’s intelligence wing at Fort Meade in Maryland had granted Goodrum access to secret information through August 2002.
When told that the background check had identified the wrong man, Fort Knox spokeswoman Shaffery said, “Isn’t that interesting?” She said Corneilson is no longer at Fort Knox and she doesn’t know how to find him.
One more try. “Goodrum’s superiors did come up with one allegation that stuck — fraternization. This allegation came from Fisher, Goodrum’s superior officer in Iraq. But there are several peculiar things about the fraternization case against Goodrum, including a possibly forged document and testimony that the Army itself admitted was ‘tainted.'”
“Lt. Goodrum needs to explain what he was doing last night, where he was, and with whom,” the statement, dated April 5, 2003, reads. It says that the female sergeant allegedly involved was suspiciously missing from her bunk one night at Camp Atterbury when Goodrum had gone missing too. “It is only suspect [sic] that these two, the platoon leader and sergeant, might be having an affair.”
Both commanders and soldiers are supposed to sign counseling statements to authenticate them. The Army prosecutors’ packet of information against Goodrum includes, behind the counseling statement, a separate authentication page that Goodrum and Fisher were supposed to sign to show that Goodrum had been counseled. But Goodrum’s signature is dated March 18, 2003, three weeks before he would have received the counseling. It looks like an exact copy of a signature from an unrelated document Goodrum signed on March 18, 2003.
After months of legal wrangling, on April 1, 2005, Maj. Gen. Galen Jackman at the Army’s Military District of Washington finally released a decision in Goodrum’s case. A few weeks before, the gray-haired Jackman considered the fraternization case while sitting at his desk in a cramped, hot office at tiny Fort McNair in southwest Washington. Goodrum stood for three hours, his perspiration finally soaking through the jacket of his dress uniform.
Jackman, who gained fame when he appeared giving his arm to Nancy Reagan during her husband’s funeral in Washington, found Goodrum innocent of the AWOL charge. He found Goodrum guilty of fraternization with the sergeant, but only of the lesser violation of presenting an inappropriate image, not of having sexual relations with her. In his written decision, Jackman does not explain the basis for finding Goodrum guilty.
If the Army will gladly lie and manufacture evidence against one of their own, if the sole arbiter of justice will base his decision on such evidence without comment, and federal prosecutors will step in to provide criminal records that do not match… if there is no justice for Lt. Goodrum, there is no justice. As Congress debates the extension and expansion of the Patriot Act, consider the lengths our government when to punish Lt. Goodrum for blowing the whistle on well known and well documented facts. If Lt. Goodrum is “the enemy” so are all of us.
Please take a few minutes to read the full story at Salon, by membership or free pass and write your Congress critters. Urge them to consider what unchecked power has done to one man who gave 16 years of his life to serve for his country’s freedom and democracy.