Military injustice

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.

By Mark Benjamin

Published June 7, 2005 8:11PM (EDT)

Groucho Marx once said that military justice is to justice what military music is to music. Lt. Jullian Goodrum laughs at that quote. "It's crazy," the 35-year-old Army reservist and Iraq vet says about his knock-down, drag-out fight with the Army. It pushed him to the edge, physically, emotionally and financially. "I have to laugh. Otherwise I'd go crazy," he says.

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.

"Call me anytime, even late at night," Goodrum told me on the phone from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington as I was working on this story. "I don't sleep."

Goodrum is heavily medicated to prevent panic attacks, but he says he has sudden, violent urges that make him worry about what he might do to himself or others. He is often drenched in sweat as a result of anxiety. When I ask him about his fiancée, he says flatly: "I have no emotions. I just have no emotions."

His trust in the military has been shattered to the point where he will not let the Army fix a dental filling that has fallen out, operate on painful kidney stones, or conduct a needed liver biopsy. "I will not let them touch me," he says, and that includes the Army's doctors.

Goodrum's late father was a veteran of Korea who did intelligence work, and Goodrum said his dad was glad when he showed enthusiasm for the military. "Once I got in, I really enjoyed the majority of the functions" of the military, Goodrum said. "I was a good fit for it, and it was a good fit for me. I love being part of a team, but also you can achieve as an individual. I enjoyed defending my country." Then he said, "I'm glad he is not alive now to see this mess."

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."

In fact, a review of hundreds of pages of documents and hours of tapes from Goodrum's disciplinary proceedings show his superior officers cooperating in what looks like a concerted effort to put him behind bars. Goodrum provided the records to Salon, though they are not available to the public.

Although a superior officer did order Goodrum to return to Fort Knox, and he did not -- the heart of the Army's desertion case -- the context of that order, Goodrum's medical status at the time, and the Army's subsequent actions make it clear that the desertion charge was highly literalistic and almost certainly vindictive. A contemporaneous note in the files casts severe doubt on the crucial claim, made by the officer in charge of long-term medical care, that he did not intend to deny Goodrum medical care at Fort Knox. Initially, the Army in effect ignored the PTSD diagnosis of Goodrum's civilian doctor, saying that he was not entitled to medical leave for PTSD. The officer who was the target of Goodrum's whistle-blowing, while in Iraq, took part in the stateside decision to order Goodrum to return to Fort Knox, Ky., although he had not seen Goodrum for months and could have had no knowledge of his medical condition. Officers seem to have pressured some witnesses and coached others, possibly instructing them to lie.

The documents and tapes also show Army officers trying to dig up dirt on Goodrum. Using information from a background check on a different man, the officers suggested -- incorrectly -- to military prosecutors that Goodrum might be a convicted drug dealer. A document alleging he had had an affair with a female subordinate before going to Iraq mysteriously appeared in Goodrum's record. The Army said it could not locate some defense witnesses whom Goodrum sought. And when Goodrum, after learning he was being charged with desertion, checked into a different Army hospital, the same superior officer who apparently had ordered him turned away from Fort Knox ordered him held in psychiatric lockdown for almost two weeks, although his doctors had planned to release him. No reason was given other than the Orwellian phrase "administrative concerns."

Trying to prove that you're being railroaded by officers trying to cover up for their own poor leadership, or to punish you for speaking out, is particularly difficult because superior officers have so much power. They control your salary, food and clothing, movement and freedom; they decide if your hair is too long. They hold the keys to your career, and they can chuck them in the gutter at any time.

Superior officers also get to choose your punishment. They decide if you will face a trial by jury or a laundry list of "nonjudicial" penalties, including reduction of rank, loss of pay, and house arrest. They also appoint the investigators who will look into your case.

The Army will provide you with a military defense attorney, or you can hire a civilian attorney at great expense. A civilian lawyer might be a good idea -- military lawyers are notoriously overworked, and some have the reputation of not trying overly hard on their clients' behalf. Should a defense bankrupt you, too bad: You can't sue the military to reimburse your attorney fees.

That Goodrum's innocence was determined by one general, as opposed to a jury (which would be called for a court-martial), is significant. Superior officers can decide whether a soldier should be tried by a jury or face other, usually lesser, disciplinary action decided by one officer.

That quirk of military justice, critics say, can also be abused to prevent damaging information from becoming public during discovery and cross-examination in a trial by jury. If one general can decide what evidence to look into, he can also decide what not to look into. Information that is damaging to the chain of command can simply remain secret.

Some experts have called for an overhaul of the incestuous military justice system, pointing out that it can easily be manipulated to protect and insulate the Army brass at the expense of lower-ranking soldiers. Which is just what many believe happened in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, in which the Army has ignored almost all the high-level officers involved and punished grunts. "The whole system is inherently conflicted. They circle the wagons," said Kevin J. Barry, a former Coast Guard judge and a founder of the National Institute of Military Justice, which helps defend GIs.

After the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April 2004, Barry wrote an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune. "In the United States, almost every commander is also a court-martial convening authority, the equivalent of a district attorney," Barry wrote. "The commander is empowered and required to investigate serious crimes and to make prosecution decisions such as whom to charge and for what crimes. This role can present a conflict of interest." Barry added that "these are precisely the circumstances ... found in Abu Ghraib."

After an officer hands down a ruling, in most cases the accused military personnel do have the option of demanding a court-martial, a proceeding over which the military has less control. Goodrum says that the Army tried to cut a deal with him that would rule out a court-martial. He says that he would have insisted on a court-martial proceeding if he had had the money to pay the legal bills.

I told Barry that Goodrum's command had decided against a court-martial and handled Goodrum's case in a nonjudicial fashion through one general. "They are scared of something," Barry said.

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. A spokeswoman for Fort Knox, Connie Shaffery, told me after the charges were filed that the situation is simple: "If a soldier is not at his or her duty station and is not in an authorized leave or pass status, he is absent without leave," Shaffery said. "When instructed to return and they do not comply, that is a violation."

But that seemingly straightforward answer ignores several critical facts. In fact, Army regulations state that when medical care is not available at a military facility, commanders should consider a soldier in a civilian hospital -- or a soldier under the care of a civilian doctor -- as "absent sick" and should not penalize him or her as a deserter. The civilian doctor has considerable authority to decide when a soldier is healthy enough to return to base. Treatment was obviously not available at Fort Knox earlier, when Goodrum was turned away. Although Goodrum's company commander ordered him to return to Fort Knox, it was only to sign forms granting him leave. Moreover, she insisted that he drive in the very next day at 7 a.m., although Goodrum was in no condition to drive. Goodrum's civilian psychiatrist stated that being treated at Fort Knox, where Army brass clearly had it in for him, was not in his medical interests. Finally, after Goodrum's company commander ordered him to come in, neither she nor anyone else in the Army informed either Goodrum or his civilian doctor that Goodrum was then being considered AWOL. Faxes sent by Goodrum's doctor clearly indicate that the doctor believed that Goodrum was not considered AWOL.

Under these circumstances, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Army's charges of desertion were a vindictive "gotcha," payback for his speaking out. And even though the Army itself confirmed that Goodrum was suffering from PTSD, its actions throughout this sorry affair betray nothing but skepticism about that claim and a desire to punish him.

Indeed, Goodrum was ultimately found innocent of desertion, but his ordeal hasn't ended. As with Army chaplain James Yee, a Guantánamo prison chaplain originally charged with spying and later with adultery (all charges were eventually dropped), the Army then alleged that Goodrum had engaged in fraternization with a female sergeant. He was found guilty of fraternization, although not of having sexual relations. Goodrum is appealing the verdict, but even though an investigating officer decided that some of the evidence "may have been obtained by coercion" by a superior officer, according to records, Goodrum could still face punishment -- a deduction of $4,000 in pay and a letter of reprimand in his permanent officer-management file.

I met Goodrum in the fall of 2003 while working on a series of articles for UPI about long delays in obtaining appointments, a lack of high-quality medical treatment, and poor housing for Iraq vets in long-term outpatient care -- what the Army calls "medical hold." In my first story, which ran in October, I reported that some of the wounded and ill soldiers at Fort Stewart, Ga., were staying in sweltering cement barracks without running water. The story sparked public outrage, some hearings in Congress, and a bipartisan Senate investigation that confirmed my findings. I wrote a second, similar article a few days later about the conditions at Fort Knox.

A group of about 10 soldiers, including officers, had agreed to meet me at a Chinese restaurant off base to talk about the healthcare problems at Fort Knox. Goodrum, in a sharply pressed khaki uniform, was among those willing to go on the record.

I was going through soldiers' service records at the time -- a good way to measure whom one is talking to. Goodrum had been back from Iraq for about four months, and his service record to that point was impeccable. He had received a raft of decorations, and had been named the Army Reserve's 176th Maintenance Battalion's Officer of the Year in 2001. And he had gotten glowing reviews from his bosses going back to his service as a gunner's mate in the Navy on the USS Missouri during the first Gulf War.

Then, after 16 years of spotless service, Goodrum suddenly turned into a bad egg.

Goodrum was transferred to the 212th Transportation Company out of Camp Atterbury, Ind., prior to leaving for Iraq in April 2003. Transportation companies haul everything and anything around Iraq. They face the constant threat of ambush and roadside bombs. In Iraq, Goodrum had around 35 soldiers under his command, with 18 huge trucks for hauling.

Goodrum and his soldiers tried to fulfill their mission. But their equipment was wretchedly inadequate. The disgraceful state of the Army's equipment became clear in December 2004, when Army Spc. Thomas Wilson of the 278th Regimental Combat Team complained to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the lack of armor plating on military combat vehicles. "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?" Wilson asked. Rumsfeld's cavalier answer was, "You have to go to war with the army you have, not the army you want." As late as August 2003, after Goodrum's combat service, only 15 armored Humvees were being produced each month.

On the ground in Iraq that spring, Goodrum and other soldiers have said, they drove unarmored vehicles, with no body armor, no maps, insufficient ammunition, and no medical kits if they did get hit. Goodrum kept his eyes glued to the side mirror of his lead Humvee counting headlights in his truck convoy -- because they had no radios. Goodrum was forced to improvise a makeshift roof of plywood and sandbags on his unarmored Humvee. And Goodrum and several other soldiers have claimed that they sometimes drove trucks that had been "deadlined" -- meaning the trucks should not have been on the road because of potential safety problems and the possibility of their breaking down in hostile territory.

Making runs was a grueling experience. The convoys faced sniper fire on every mission. At night, tracers would arc nearby, though the soldiers in Goodrum's platoon did not always know who was shooting. The enemy tossed grenades and satchel bombs. "There was a constant threat, 360 degrees," Goodrum said. Like many other transportation companies in the beginning of the war, they were told that Iraqi insurgents were slowing down convoys for attack by putting children in the road. Convoys were ordered to run them down, if necessary. Goodrum saw a British convoy run over a small girl. "There were convoys that would run right over children," Goodrum said. "We had orders to run right the fuck over them. You pray when you see kids. You say, 'Please, God. Please make that child move.' You are put in a serious ethical situation."

Goodrum is not able to recall exactly when he first began experiencing symptoms of PTSD. He had some symptoms in Iraq, but that is normal for that environment. Other symptoms began to appear during evacuation and gradually got worse. Goodrum said he does not know which event, or combination of events, might have triggered his PTSD, or whether he might have been more susceptible because of his combat service in the first Gulf War on the USS Missouri. His gun team fired on Iraqis, and the ship was nearly hit by an Iraqi missile.

That summer, Goodrum was medically evacuated to Fort Knox because of wrist injuries, a legacy of his job of loading 65-pound shells on the USS Missouri. He has had surgery on his left wrist but is waiting to have the other wrist treated until he gets out of the Army. He still wears a brace on that hand.

On Aug. 20, a few weeks after Goodrum's evacuation, a soldier in Goodman's unit, Sgt. Kenneth Harris, was killed in a gruesome truck wreck that cut him in half. Soldiers from the unit have said it was a preventable accident caused or exacerbated by the shoddy vehicles. "Kenneth Harris wouldn't be dead if the vehicles had been better maintained," Jr. Staff Sgt. Reginal Coleman told This Is Rumor Control, a foreign-policy and security-issues blog, about the fatal accident. Coleman was in one of the vehicles involved. Goodrum clearly hurts when the topic comes up, even though by the time the accident occurred, Goodrum was back in the States.

When he got to Fort Knox, Goodrum fell into the "medical hold" bottleneck, in which many soldiers waited weeks and sometimes months for medical care. The Army later pledged tens of millions to fix the problem, and Congress held hearings. Goodrum's on-the-record quote in the UPI wire article I filed was: "I have never been so disrespected in my military career. I have never been so treated like dirt."

Goodrum had never before filed a formal complaint against the Army. But the equipment situation in Iraq was so dire, he says, that he decided to make noise about it. And Harris' death only made him angrier.

Goodrum criticized Capt. Randall Fisher, his superior officer in Iraq, saying Fisher should have done a better job of fixing the problems that may have contributed to the death of Harris. Fisher was not present at the accident but said that it was due to "driver's negligence" and that "an investigation determined that the truck that Sgt. Harris was driving was fine," according to a summary of Fisher's sworn statements prepared by the Army. A spokesman for the 81st Regional Readiness Command in Birmingham, Ala., Maj. William Ritter, said Fisher did not want to comment on what he called a "he said, she said type of thing." But when he testified in Goodrum's disciplinary proceedings, Fisher characterized the unit's equipment and trucks as being in good shape.

It is unclear what investigation of the accident Fisher was referring to. Goodrum's defense team requested reports on any investigation into the incident and received a two-page report that lists the basics of the accident, like the location and time of the crash. It says nothing about what might have caused it. Goodrum said the inspector general from the Army Reserve looked into the 212th and gave me the name of the investigator. A spokesman for the Army Reserve, Steve Stromvall, would not confirm or deny that such an investigation had taken place or let me talk to the investigator.

Goodrum says he has talked to three soldiers present at the accident. (One of those soldiers, Coleman, confirmed Goodrum's account.) He says all three said Harris' vehicle had been recently "deadlined" and was breaking down in the desert and falling behind the main convoy. It was racing to catch up when it slammed into the back of the convoy, severing Harris in half. "That vehicle should have never been out there," Goodrum told me.

At Fort Knox that summer and fall, Goodrum became increasingly frustrated because nobody in the Army would take any action on his complaints. On Oct. 15, 2003, he sent a letter to Rep. William Jenkins, R-Tenn. In the letter he wrote, referring to Fisher, "It is also my professional and common sense observation that the commander has fostered an unsafe climate for the company." He continued, "This commander is not fit to command and has fostered an unsafe command climate, which has resulted in a soldier getting killed under his command." Almost immediately, Jenkins asked the Army to look into Harris' death.

Goodrum's confrontation with the Army was about to turn toxic.

At the same time, Goodrum's mental condition was deteriorating. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder often do not appear until some time after a traumatic event. Panic attacks, depression, sudden bouts of anger, paranoia and suicidal thoughts are symptoms. Some soldiers have frightening homicidal thoughts, as well.

Goodrum says his condition didn't prevent him from doing what he believed was the right thing in blowing the whistle on the Army. "Unless you are in the midst of a panic attack or totally dysfunctional, you still know right from wrong," Goodrum said. "Don't get me wrong, if I get in a rage I might not know what is going on. But I still know right from wrong. Just because you have PTSD does not mean you are totally crazy."

By November, Goodrum had begun to think about suicide. On Nov. 7, 2003, he sought help at Fort Knox but was turned away. After he was turned away, Goodrum says he got in his car and drove down the freeway at 5 miles an hour, waiting to die.

Goodrum was ordered to leave without treatment. The Army does not dispute this. His medical records from that day include this note from 1st Lt. Ricardo Zaldivar, who was one of two men present when Goodrum was turned away: "Colonel Stevens [sic] do [sic] not want this patient to be in medical hold."

At that time, Lt. Col. Ronald Stephens was the top officer in charge of soldiers at Fort Knox who were recuperating from the war or who needed long-term help in "medical hold." My article about poor medical care for soldiers at Fort Knox, in which Goodrum was quoted, had appeared just days before. Stephens had read it, and it was not likely to have pleased him. His boss and the commander at Fort Knox, Col. Keith Armstrong, would later testify before Congress about the issues in my articles. And Pentagon Undersecretary of Defense David S.C. Chu responded by drafting new rules specifying that if medical care is not available for a soldier on a base, he or she should be referred to a civilian doctor.

When I recently called Fort Knox, its spokeswoman, Shaffery, said Stephens was no longer at that post and she didn't know where he was. (Goodrum says he is now in Japan. Salon was unable to confirm his location.)

In Goodrum's disciplinary proceedings, Stephens testified that he did not order that Goodrum be denied healthcare. He said there was a misunderstanding and that he had ordered Goodrum brought to his office. But Zaldivar's note contradicts Stephens' account. When it was time for testimony in Goodrum's case, the Army claimed it could not locate Zaldivar, though other testimony showed it was likely that he was at Fort Drum in New York.

There was one other man in the room besides Zaldivar when Goodrum was allegedly denied medical care, 1st Lt. John Fanoschultz. According to Goodrum, Fanoschultz told him that his orders from Stephens were clear: Don't treat Goodrum. "You are not to be put on medical hold or to be treated here at Fort Knox,'" Goodrum recalls Fanoschultz saying to him.

Under oath in Goodrum's case, Fanoschultz said he did not remember anything. "I don't recall specifically seeing him [Goodrum]," Fanoschultz said. "I don't specifically recollect an individual or a particular time frame." Fanoschultz also said under oath, however, that he had discussed the case with Stephens, his boss, just before testifying. "I briefly talked to the colonel and asked him what was happening regarding this issue," Fanoschultz said. "And we went over essentially what had happened." How Fanoschultz and Stephens could go over "what happened" with Goodrum when Fanoschultz had no memory of the entire incident is not clear.

As for Goodrum, he's convinced that Stephens denied him medical care because of my UPI article. When Goodrum showed up asking for help, he says an aide in the hospital sarcastically called him "a celebrity" when Goodrum gave his name -- presumably because of his quote in that article. Stephens testified in Goodrum's case that he did know about the UPI article, but he did not think the article was true.

Turned away from Fort Knox, Goodrum checked himself into the civilian psychiatric hospital in Knoxville, where he was put under the care of Dr. Vijay Jethanandani. Starting on Nov. 15, Jethanandani sent a series of five faxes to Fort Knox, updating the base on Goodrum's hospitalization and further outpatient care, which lasted until February 2004.

While Goodrum was under civilian care, Stephens was in close communication with Fisher, the officer in Iraq whom Goodrum had accused, documents show. "Through close dialogue between his company commander [Fisher] ... and LTC Stephens ... it was determined that Lt. Goodrum should return to Fort Knox for re-evaluation," a Fort Knox hospital commander later wrote to Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn. (Goodrum had asked Davis to look into his case.) What medical insight Fisher, who had not seen Goodrum for months, could have provided to Stephens is unclear. The records show that Fisher was in contact with Fort Knox about Goodrum via e-mail as well. After that "close dialogue," Fort Knox decided Goodrum was AWOL.

Records show that Fort Knox classified Goodrum AWOL on Nov. 21. Yet Goodrum says "they never ordered me to return to Fort Knox." Goodrum says he was under the impression that the Army, after initially threatening to find him AWOL, had decided to let him get his treatment from the civilian doctor in Knoxville. He found out the Army thought he was a deserter only when he went to get a prescription filled for psychiatric drugs on Jan. 17, 2004, when he was getting outpatient therapy. But Fort Knox had cut off his Army insurance and he could not get the pills. When he called the Army insurance program, he was told Fort Knox had listed him as a deserter.

Army officials testified they had given Goodrum a clear choice: Return to Fort Knox or face charges. But after issuing an initial threat, the Army does not seem to have followed up with either Goodrum or his doctor -- strange behavior considering that desertion is among the most serious charges that can be levied against a soldier. Indeed, the Army's behavior throughout the entire case is murky, contradictory and suspicious.

After Goodrum checked into the civilian hospital on Nov. 7, Jethanandani treated him. After determining that Goodrum's condition allowed it, the physician let him out before Thanksgiving, but wanted him to stay nearby for further outpatient treatment. On Nov. 15, he sent a first fax to Fort Knox, saying that Goodrum was hospitalized under his care.

On Nov. 26, the day before Thanksgiving, Goodrum received a voice-mail message from his company commander at Fort Knox, Capt. Deborah Savage, who reported to Stephens. On the tape, Savage said she would approve some sort of leave for Goodrum, but that his civilian doctor could not excuse him from Fort Knox. "Only I have the authority to put you on leave ... However, I agree to authorize your leave, but you need to call me back so I can let you know ... If I am not here, leave me a message because I am going to be putting you on leave."

Goodrum called her back. Goodrum and Savage agree on their recollections of their conversation. Savage told Goodrum she was not going to grant him convalescent leave, but that she would grant him leave if he agreed to take it out of his personal time -- that is, his vacation. She told him he had to come back to Fort Knox to the next morning at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving day to sign the forms. After Goodrum protested, saying that he had a serious medical condition, "I said, 'If that is what you want, I will consider you AWOL,'" Savage recounted later in her testimony. Goodrum, panicked at the idea of being charged with desertion, agreed to take the leave out of his personal time, but told Savage he was in no shape to drive and asked if she could fax the papers. She repeated that he had to come in person. At this point, in despair, Goodrum asked her to talk to his doctor.

It is not clear whether Savage called Jethanandani. Savage did speak to the physician's office manager, Jeanette Willis, around this time and told her that Goodrum was in danger of being charged with desertion.

Whether Savage spoke to him or to Willis, Dr. Jethanandani learned about the military's hard-line position and protested vehemently. On Dec. 3, he sent a fax to Fort Knox in which he wrote, "Unfortunately, recent intimidation, threats of being arrested for staying on medical leave from his superiors has resulted in recurrent psychiatric symptoms. Until 11/26/03 Mr. Julian [sic] Goodrum was progressing fairly well ... It does not help that Mr. Goodrum was in combat with a unit in Iraq, where a superior officer ignored safety protocol jeopardizing the safety of soldiers and resulting in the death of one man. Instead of following up on his complaints, it appears that some of his superiors on stateside may be penalizing him for reporting his superior officer in Iraq."

After his conversation with Savage, Goodrum, afraid and confused, called the inspector general (an independent military investigator) at Fort Knox and asked him to look into the matter. Goodrum claims that after the IG did so, Savage backed off her threats and told his civilian doctor Goodrum was not a deserter. (Base spokesperson Shaffery said the inspector general's office is not allowed to comment on its work.)

Subsequent faxes from Jethanandani give no indication that the doctor was concerned that his patient was going to be found AWOL. On Jan. 2, 2004, for example, Jethanandani wrote, "This is to state that Mr. Julian Goodrum needs an extension of his medical leave for another two months. The antidepressants he is on at this time have failed to resolve his depression."

In an interview, office manager Willis also supported the idea that Savage seemed to have dropped the idea of charging Goodrum with desertion. Willis said that she had a second conversation with Savage in which Savage indicated everything had been worked out and Goodrum was not in danger of being charged with desertion. "In one of the two conversations, she indicated that it was going to be OK," Willis said. "I do remember her saying that it is OK, we will try to push through his leave." Willis could not remember the exact date of these conversations, but both took place after Goodrum had been hospitalized.

"That was the last time we heard from the Army," Goodrum says. "The Army just did not tell anybody I was AWOL. I know it is shocking, but it is true. The Army knew I was under psychological care and they knew the doctor. Why didn't they call the doctor to tell him?"

Fort Knox said Savage still works there, but she did not call me back by the time this article went to press. Goodrum's civilian doctor did not, either. Willis, his office manager, told me he would probably not return my calls. "He does not like to stir up trouble," Willis told me.

While a bewildered and fearful Goodrum was trying to deal with this situation, his superior officers at Fort Knox were trying to dig up dirt on him. An e-mail from Jan. 20, 2004, obtained by his defense team, shows that Maj. William Judd, who worked for Stephens at Fort Knox, asked a colleague to look into a rumor that Goodrum might have used a fake name to get psychiatric treatment at the University of Kentucky. "We may be able to charge him with an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," the e-mail reads. "If you can get any paperwork from UK that has his [Social Security number] on it and shows that he tried to get admitted, that would be very helpful." The rumor was false.

After Goodrum's superiors cut off the Army's insurance payments to the civilian hospital in Knoxville, Goodrum was forced to check out of the facility. His civilian psychiatrist, believing -- with considerable reason -- that being treated at Fort Knox would not help him get better, suggested that Goodrum go to the Army's flagship hospital in Washington, Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Goodrum was shocked and angry at being charged with desertion and was afraid to return to Fort Knox. But he agreed to go to Walter Reed.

When he got there, on Feb. 9, 2004, Walter Reed's doctors immediately placed him in the lockdown psychiatric ward for evaluation, a relatively standard step to determine if a soldier is a risk to himself or others. His medical records from that period portray Goodrum as "cooperative and polite" but also "anxious and depressed" and "largely preoccupied with concerns about legal charges and financial stressors."

A note in Goodrum's medical records shows that four days later, Stephens and the officer in charge of Fort Knox's hospital, Col. Carol Pierce, visited Walter Reed on Feb. 12. It is unclear what they did there.

Although the records show that Goodrum was improving and that doctors planned to release him from the lockdown psychiatric ward on Feb. 19, Stephens called Walter Reed medical staff on Feb. 18, the records show, and told doctors to keep him in the lockdown ward. "Contacted by DCCS at Fort Knox, LTC Stephens, who provided additional information and expressed concerns regarding potential discharge of LT Goodrum," the records say. Doctors at Walter Reed apparently agreed to keep him there. "Pt is scheduled for intake [for outpatient therapy] tomorrow, however due to recent admin developments concerning command at Fort Knox this may need to be postponed."

Goodrum was held in the ward for the next 13 days, despite the belief of some on his medical team that he should be released. "Several team members have discussed concern that he is [in the locked ward]. Serial Mental Status exams have not revealed signs of psychosis, [suicidal thoughts] or [homicidal thoughts]," the records for Feb. 26 say. "As discussed previously, this inpatient hospitalization has been extended due to administrative concerns," the records for Feb. 27 say. "This treatment could have taken place in an outpatient setting." Walter Reed diagnosed him as suffering from PTSD.

After Goodrum had been held for nearly two weeks longer than apparently needed, I wrote an article about him on March 1, 2004. Walter Reed released him from the lockdown ward on March 2. Goodrum says he believes that his extended stay in the psychiatric lockdown was purely punitive and that if the article had not appeared, he might have been held much longer, perhaps indefinitely.

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.

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."

Military policy says a soldier should be "counseled" by a superior officer before the soldier faces serious punishment, after which a written "counseling statement" is to be placed in his or her record. Goodrum says Fisher never counseled him about the alleged fraternization -- but that a counseling statement nevertheless showed up in his record when the Army threw the book at him. Goodrum claims it was manufactured.

"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.

Goodrum's case file contains a dozen statements from soldiers from the 212th about the alleged fraternization between Goodrum and the female sergeant. Some believed their relationship may have been inappropriate; others did not.

Three soldiers allege having seeing Goodrum and the sergeant kiss. A military investigating officer later determined that two of those soldiers may have been engaged in an affair themselves and that Fisher may have threatened to prosecute them in an effort to get their statements against Goodrum. "The statements ... may have obtained by coercion, using the threat of charges of adultery between these two soldiers as leverage for them to make statements against Lt. Goodrum," the officer said, adding that the evidence "should be considered tainted."

One officer stated in writing that he was present when Fisher used the threat of divulging the affair. He said Fisher had it in for Goodrum. "On several occasions Capt. Fisher stated that he hated Lt. Goodrum and wished he could get him," said Lt. Jason Eisele from the 212th Transportation Company.

The third witness who said he saw Goodrum kissing his platoon sergeant said another soldier pointed it out. But in a written statement, that soldier said that it was not true.

The sergeant allegedly involved with Goodrum was never called by the Army to testify. In a written statement taken from Iraq, she denied a romantic relationship: "My relationship with Lt. Goodrum has been nothing but professional at all times," she wrote.

As for Goodrum, he said he only learned of the charges on June 16, 2004 -- the day he was charged with being AWOL. "The first time I hear of that was when they charged me. I knew the potential AWOL thing was going to pop, but I had that all covered by the reg. [Army regulations that show he should not have been considered AWOL]. I was in shock."

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.

Goodrum vows to keep trying to prove his innocence. "I'll fight until justice is delivered," Goodrum said. "I tell people: Try to settle your problems quietly and tactfully through the Army. But if you are going to fight, really, really be ready to fight until the end."

Mark Benjamin

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for Salon based in Washington, D.C. Read his other articles here.

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