Can War Injuries Spawn Massacres?

Recent research on the neurological effects of combat might play a role in the defense trial of a US Army soldier who is accused killed 16 Afghan civilians.

By | March 21, 2012

image: Can War Injuries Spawn Massacres? Wikimedia Commons, TheBrain

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, THEBRAIN

On March 11, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales allegedly went on a door-to-door killing spree in the Panjwayi district of Afghanistan. By the end of it, according to reports, 5 civilians were injured and 16 were dead. Nine of the deceased were children. Though investigators are still sifting through the details of Bales's case, there have been indications that his defense team may introduce evidence that uses post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) to help explain the soldier's alleged actions.

But current research is not definitive on whether those two disorders, which are increasingly diagnosed in today's fighting troops, could contribute to what seemed to be a pre-meditated massacre, such as the one of which Bales is accused.

“When someone has a brain injury, behavioral issues are often emergent after some period,” Kevin Kit Parker, Harvard University biomedical engineering, told Nature.

While "most experts are hesitant to speculate on the specific case" of Bales, as details are still scant, according to the Nature report, they do admit that violent behaviors can result from both TBI and PTSD.

Bales's lawyer, John Henry Browne, told NBC's TODAY last week that the soldier suffered a "concussive head injury" and was cleared of PTSD after "minimal" testing during an earlier deployment in Iraq, and that he and the rest of Bales's defense team would likely focus on PTSD when the case goes to trial. Also, Browne told Sky News HD that Bales has "some memories of before the incident and he has some memories of after the incident. In between, very little."

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Avatar of: Kathy Barker

Kathy Barker

Posts: 9

March 22, 2012

Thank you for this article, and I would like to take it a bit further. War causes PTSD and brain injury through TBI: these have some overlapping effects, and many of the separate and shared injuries can explain behavior such as this. Right now, Madigan Army Medical Center is getting attention because it has reversed 40% of the PTSD diagnoses, apparently to reduce costs 
(http://seattletimes.nwsource.c.... 
Bales was screened there.

There was an excellent session on Neuroscience and the Law at the AAAS meeting in Vancouver this year, which covered responsibility and consent in court and in sentencing in view of the latest research on memory, etc and brain injury. The law is a decade or two behind the science in recognizing the physiological nature of the brain and behavior, and so is the military, but deliberately so. 
We know PTSD symptoms can be alleviated, but not cured. TBIs can change the entire way decisions are made and emotions are perceived. We know this.

Bales' actions, especially couple with a brain injury, are not an expected consequence of combat and the training it takes to get a human being to overcome his or her natural resistance to killing others. Even the drone operators are suffering from PTSD.

Bales is a murderer and he is a victim, as much as the civilians being killed daily. THis is what war is. At the risk of being "political", we give our consent to the process of war and are silent collaborators. Amazing to think of science on the side of preventing wars, not enabling them...it could happen.....

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

March 22, 2012

Thank you for this article, and I would like to take it a bit further. War causes PTSD and brain injury through TBI: these have some overlapping effects, and many of the separate and shared injuries can explain behavior such as this. Right now, Madigan Army Medical Center is getting attention because it has reversed 40% of the PTSD diagnoses, apparently to reduce costs 
(http://seattletimes.nwsource.c.... 
Bales was screened there.

There was an excellent session on Neuroscience and the Law at the AAAS meeting in Vancouver this year, which covered responsibility and consent in court and in sentencing in view of the latest research on memory, etc and brain injury. The law is a decade or two behind the science in recognizing the physiological nature of the brain and behavior, and so is the military, but deliberately so. 
We know PTSD symptoms can be alleviated, but not cured. TBIs can change the entire way decisions are made and emotions are perceived. We know this.

Bales' actions, especially couple with a brain injury, are not an expected consequence of combat and the training it takes to get a human being to overcome his or her natural resistance to killing others. Even the drone operators are suffering from PTSD.

Bales is a murderer and he is a victim, as much as the civilians being killed daily. THis is what war is. At the risk of being "political", we give our consent to the process of war and are silent collaborators. Amazing to think of science on the side of preventing wars, not enabling them...it could happen.....

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