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Marine hero languishes in detention

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    Marine hero languishes in detention Saturday, November 19, 2005 By TOM DAVIS http://www.bergen.com/page.php?
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 24, 2005
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      Marine hero languishes in detention
      Saturday, November 19, 2005
      By TOM DAVIS
      http://www.bergen.com/page.php?
      qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXkzJmZnYmVsN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk2ODE4MDc5Jnlya
      XJ5N2Y3MTdmN3ZxZWVFRXl5Mg


      When Christian Lopez marched with his fellow Marines into Baghdad,
      little girls showed their gratitude to be finally rid of Saddam
      Hussein.

      "They went up to him and gave him real Iraqi money, with Saddam's
      picture on it," said his brother, Frank Lopez of Ridgefield.

      Soon after, the young corporal returned to the States a hero.

      Now, two years later, after a second tour of duty, the U.S. Marines
      consider him "potentially violent and dangerous."

      For the past two months, Lopez has been detained at Camp Lejeune in
      North Carolina on charges of breaking military rules while aboard the
      USS Ashland. Lopez served on the transport ship during a six-month
      tour in the Mideast. He could face a court-martial hearing, although
      no timetable has been set.

      Lopez, 23, also has received psychiatric care at a base hospital
      after allegedly trying to hurt himself, his brother said.

      At times, family members said, he has acted paranoid and delusional.
      During a family visit, he spoke of seeking revenge for a motorcycle
      accident his father had last year. His dad lost part of his leg, and
      Lopez wanted to go after the person responsible.

      "He said, 'Dad, I'm going to cut off my leg for you,'" Lopez's
      brother Jordan said.

      Family members want to know how a good Marine who helped topple a
      dictator has ended up imprisoned. They wonder if he's suffering from
      battle trauma and question whether he's getting the care he needs.

      Psychologists say a variety of war-related factors could have
      triggered Lopez's behavior. Serving aboard the Ashland this year, for
      instance, could have reminded him of the horrors of war he saw in
      2003.

      "It's like a perfect storm, where things come together," said Charles
      R. Figley, director of the Florida State University Traumatology
      Institute.

      As many as 17 percent of all soldiers who have served in Iraq and
      Afghanistan have reported symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-
      traumatic stress disorder, according to a March study in the New
      England Journal of Medicine. That compares with about 15 percent of
      those who fought in the Vietnam War and the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

      Because symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can take years -
      or even decades - to appear, the number of cases will likely
      increase, Figley said.

      Even a soldier with an exemplary background - like Lopez - could
      suffer, he said. "You have a particular person who has confronted a
      series of traumatic experiences in his life," Figley said.

      The Marines have charged Lopez with disrespect, failure to obey an
      order, communicating a threat and breaking restrictions, said 1st Lt.
      Clark D. Carpenter, a Marines spokesman.

      Although Carpenter declined to elaborate, Lopez's family said the
      Marines have accused him of sexually harassing a female lieutenant
      this year aboard the Ashland.

      Carpenter said Lopez initially required "medical restraints" and some
      of his clothes were removed while he was detained at Camp Lejeune,
      because he wanted to hurt himself.

      Lopez's family says he is facing the battle of his life and they want
      to be sure the country he defended gives him a fair trial.

      "The kid is a good kid," Frank Lopez said. "He never did anything bad
      his entire life."

      Lopez's father, Luis, says he's borrowing money to pay for attorneys
      who specialize in military law. He said he visited Christian at Camp
      Lejeune and saw his son's arms and legs bound by chains.

      "I gave the Marines a healthy boy. Now he's bipolar," Luis Lopez
      said. "He has too many bad dreams."

      Carpenter insisted Lopez's treatment "has been followed by protocol."
      That includes handcuffs and leg irons during family visits for those
      Marines considered dangerous, he said. "He's been treated
      appropriately, and any concerns and issues have been addressed," he
      said.

      By serving in the Marines, Lopez was proud to realize a childhood
      dream.

      He played football at Spotswood High School, but teachers said he was
      focused on pursuing a military career. After graduating in 2001, he
      enlisted.

      "He stopped by after he got out of boot camp," said Lopez's criminal
      justice teacher, Frank Yusko. "He was very proud and proud to show
      the uniform."

      Just two years ago, Lopez was celebrating his return from a five-
      month tour of duty in Iraq and Kuwait. Spotswood High School honored
      him with a plaque on its "Wall of Honor."

      Newspapers and TV stations featured him in stories. The family threw
      Lopez a party at his parents' Florida home, where Lopez told a local
      reporter about being ambushed outside Nasiriyah.

      "There's a big rush of adrenaline," he told the St. Petersburg
      Times. "But you can't get nervous or scared, because you have to be
      alert so you can do your job."

      At the time, his family said, Lopez displayed no signs of post-
      traumatic stress disorder. "In Iraq he saw some things. But he didn't
      really talk about it much," Frank Lopez said.

      They noticed a change while Lopez was aboard the Ashland this year.
      The Marine wrote e-mails to his brothers in which he talked openly
      about hurting people.

      The erratic behavior continued when Lopez returned to Camp Lejeune in
      September, just before he was committed to the detention facility.

      "When we visited him, he took off his jacket, threw it on the floor
      and said, 'I'm [crap]. I'm nothing," Jordan Lopez said. "He was just
      talking way off reality. He was paranoid. He was delusional."

      Since then, Lopez's father has been staying at a hotel near Camp
      Lejeune, visiting his son every day at the hospital.

      "We have to work one day at a time," he said.

      E-mail: davist @ northjersey.com

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