WASHINGTON – The college student accused of slashing a New York cab driver showed no signs he might have trouble coping with the experience of traveling with combat troops in Afghanistan, the military said Friday.
Michael Enright, a student and freelance journalist who embedded with Marines in southern Afghanistan's restive Helmand Province in April, is accused of slashing the face and neck of an immigrant cab driver this week in Manhattan after asking if he was Muslim.
Enright traveled with Marines for several weeks this spring, Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said Friday. In Kabul, military spokesman Col. Hans Bush declined to say specifically what Enright might have witnessed, but said there was nothing in Enright's embed application packet that hinted at any problems.
"There was nothing in the packet to indicate (a lack of) robustness to face exposure to our operations," Bush said in a telephone interview.
Authorities in New York said that before the attack, the suspect told the cab driver, "Consider this a checkpoint." But journals Enright kept in the war zone did not contain any anti-Muslim statements or suggest a motive for the attack, investigators said. There were indications that he had been in Alcoholics Anonymous, they said.
The 21-year-old college student from Brewster, N.Y., was moved from jail to a psychiatric ward, corrections officials said Friday.
In Afghanistan, he participated in a Pentagon program that accommodates up to 100 journalists, videographers, book authors and others each month who want to report on the war. They are allowed to "embed," or travel and live with military forces, on assignments that can range from covering military headquarters in Kabul to traveling with combat forces in the most remote and dangerous areas of the country.
"The strength of the program is that it is probably the best way for a journalist ... to capture the tone, timbre and essence of troops in a demanding mission and to have that no-kidding sight, smell and feel of a combat operation," Bush said.
The Defense Department regards embeds as an important way to get out the story of the Afghan war effort, and the same system has been widely used in Iraq.
Typically, the military does not conduct background checks on individuals seeking embed opportunities, but instead relies on a person's sponsoring organizations to vet them, Lapan said. And he said he's not aware of any discussions about changing the policy in light of Enright's case.
"I have to be pretty candid about this — I don't think that it's our place to make those assessments," Bush said, adding that the organization that sends an individual should be certain he or she is suited to be on a battlefield.
Enright's time in Afghanistan was linked to a number of organizations. Part of his trip was paid for by a group called Intersections, which promotes interfaith tolerance. The trip was also part of a senior video project Enright was doing at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He was also providing some video to the internet company TV Worldwide.
A statement released by the company said Enright was a "volunteer intern/reporter during April and early May of 2010," when he produced video and photographic content from his embed with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, deployed in Helmand.
To get permission to embed, individuals submit an application that provides basic information, including their employers. The form also asks: "To your knowledge do you have a heart condition?" and "Do you have any other medical conditions?"
Associated Press writer Anne Flaherty in Washington contributed to this report.