Wednesday 25 January 2006

The life and death of an Iraq veteran who could take no more

Apologies if things are quiet round here at the moment, my life off this screen is taking up more time than usual at the moment.

Anyway, the article below is worth reading because it shows you the effect that war has on the poor bastards sent to die in it. If we made the politicians and their friends fight the wars then there would be none. They hide behind their security while the lives of young innocent men are ruined by the obscenity we call "war" the ones who love it have never experienced it. War sucks and if something doesn't happen soon our world will be engulfed in a war the likes of which we cannot even imagine.

By his own admission Douglas Barber, a former army reservist, was struggling. For two years since returning from the chaos and violence of Iraq, the 35-year-old had battled with his memories and his demons, the things he had seen and the fear he had experienced. Recently, it seemed he had turned a corner, securing medical help and counselling.

But last week, at his home in south-eastern Alabama, the National Guardsman e-mailed some friends and then changed the message on his answering machine. His new message told callers: "If you're looking for Doug, I'm checking out of this world. I'll see you on the other side." Mr Barber dialled the police, stepped on to the porch with his shotgun and - after a brief stand-off with officers - shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The death of Mr Barber is one of numerous instances of Iraqi veterans who have taken their own lives since the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in spring 2003. Concern is such that the Pentagon has recently instigated new procedures for monitoring the mental health of returning troops. But his story would not have been told but for a group of determined activists and a British journalism student who was among the handful of people the reservist e-mailed just minutes before he killed himself.

Craig Evans, 19, a student at Bournemouth University, was working on a project about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and had been in regular contact with Mr Barber. But the e-mail message he received on Monday 16 January told him something was terribly wrong. It read: "I have nothing to live for any more - I am going to be checking out of this world." Mr Evans said he tried to contact the US embassy and some of Mr Barber's friends in the US to alert them to what he suspected might happen. "I e-mailed him back and wrote, 'I am going to ring you, don't do anything stupid'.It was an effort in vain: within an hour Mr Barber had used his shotgun to end to his torment.

Mr Evans said: "Doug said he wasn't the same person when he got back [from Iraq] - he was paranoid, had lost his social skills, his marriage was over, he couldn't walk down the street without worrying something was going to blow up. I made a promise to him that I would do everything I could to get his story out there."

Mr Barber was a member of the 1485th Transportation Company of the Ohio National Guard and was called up for active duty in February 2003. He arrived in Iraq in summer 2003, when the initial invasion had been completed and just as the insurgency was gathering strength.

He spent seven months in Iraq, driving trucks and trying to avoid the deadly perils that confronted him. He was haunted by the deaths of his colleagues and by the fear and desperation he saw in the faces of Iraqis. Like many reservists pushed into the front line, Mr Barber said he was not properly trained.

"It was really bad - death was all around you, all the time. You couldn't escape it," he said in an interview after he returned to Alabama with the campaign group Coalition for Free Thought in Media. "Everybody in Iraq was going through suicide counselling because the stress was so high. It was at such a magnitude, such a high level, that it was unthinkable for anyone to imagine. You cannot even imagine it." He was opposed to the war but felt obliged to go because he believed that without the experience his opinion would be invalid.

Friends said that when Mr Barber returned things started to fall apart and he split from his wife of 11 years. He had been prescribed clonazepam, an anti-anxiety drug that can cause depression. One friend of more than 13 years, Rick Hays, a minister from Indiana, said: "He was a really good guy, pretty level-headed ... He liked to have fun. But when he came back from Iraq the difference in him was so sad."

Full story...