FORT LEWIS, Wash. – One day last February, when Army Spc. Ryan G. Anderson ran into his sergeant at the chow hall, Anderson announced that he would no longer be speaking to his family.
Why, asked the sergeant, Francisco Velez III.
“They’ve contacted me, sergeant,” Anderson replied, stressing the word “they.”
Who, asked Velez, as they sat down to eat.
Anderson answered in a stage whisper, loud enough to startle nearby soldiers who overheard him.
“The al Qaeda,” he said.
A day later, Anderson was arrested and hauled off to face charges of attempted treason. The “al Qaeda” agents he’d met were actually Army counterintelligence agents.
The military jury in Anderson’s court-martial is likely to start deliberating his fate this morning at Fort Lewis, a sprawling Army base near Tacoma. The tank crewman and Muslim convert faces five counts of trying to communicate and pass information to al Qaeda. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in military prison with no chance of parole.
On Wednesday, Anderson’s defense attorneys called in a psychiatrist and psychologist, who said the 27-year-old former Washington State University student suffers from several mental disorders.
Jack Norris, a psychologist from Fort Lewis’ Madigan Army Medical Center, said that Anderson is bipolar – a mental disorder formerly called manic-depression. Anderson would alternate between depression and elation or excitability, Norris said, and would go without sleep for days.
Anderson is also “schizotypal” and narcissistic, the psychologist said. The soldier was socially awkward, with few friends.
“He has been an outsider, a social misfit, most of his life,” Norris told the all-officer jury.
He also said that Anderson has “an excessive need for admiration,” which leads him to a sort of role-playing. He exaggerates his abilities and knowledge.
The Army special agents videotaped their meeting with Anderson. On the tape, he is shown eagerly telling them how large a round it takes to penetrate a Humvee’s armored windshield, and how to disable a tank by blowing off the protective armor skirting covering the treads.
Asked about that video, Norris said, “It is my opinion that he believed himself to be role-playing during this entire …” He was cut off by an objection from a military prosecutor. Under cross-examination, however, Norris said he did not believe that Anderson was delusional.
Next up was Dr. Russell Hicks, a psychiatrist who’s treating Anderson while he’s in jail at Fort Lewis.
Hicks said that Anderson suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that impairs a person’s ability to function socially. Hicks said people who know Anderson describe him as odd. He avoids eye contact, preferring to communicate with computer e-mails. Hicks agreed that Anderson is bipolar, and said the soldier’s now taking medication to ease the mood swings.
Under cross-examination, however, Hicks said that Anderson knew what he was doing.
“Spc. Anderson has no limitations on his capacity to tell the difference between right and wrong,” he said.
The trial, which started Monday, resumes today at 8 a.m. under tight security. Closing arguments and jury instructions are expected to take two hours.
Then the six-man, three-woman jury, which ranges from a second lieutenant to two colonels, will begin debating Anderson’s fate.