U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was charged on March 23rd with 17 counts of premeditated murder for the March 11 massacre of Afghan civilians, mostly women and kids, in a village in the volatile Pangwei district. On March 26th, it came out that Bales could have been under the influence of an anti-malaria drug known to cause psychotic episodes that have provoked homicides and suicides. I am relieved by this report because it makes sense of an inconceivable utterly senseless act. Bales’s reprehensible killing spree taints all NATO troops, has damaged our already shaky relationship with the Afghan government and will endanger the lives of soldiers in the field. The massacre contravened a time-honoured code that demands that soldiers only wage war on other soldiers. Bales faces the death penalty but probably will spend the rest of his life in jail. The last military execution was in 1961. Bales had served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a traumatic brain injury and had part of a foot blown off. He was a family man and reportedly didn’t want a fourth tour. I’m sure Bales was suffering from PTSD, which can be delayed by up to 12 months. In my case, the episodes came on around Christmas 2007, nine months after the axe fell. Bales spent the better part of three years in action. I was only in-country for 50 days. My PTSD occurred in the comfort and security of my own home. Bales went off the rails in a tense, volatile combat zone. I of course don’t condone this heinous act but am trying to present the incident from a soldier’s perspective. This soldier must be held accountable for his actions and held up as a dishonourable example to others.

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  1. I agree that he must be held accountable, but I wish that we had a more systematic support structure for our troops once they’ve returned from tour. According to a CBC article, Canada is one of the worlds leaders in recognizing PTSD, but changes still need to be implemented But if Staff Sergeant Bales did not want to return for his fourth tour (red flag), he was suffering from a brain injury (red flag) and had part of his foot blown off (red flag)…what part of him was considered fit for duty?
    I know nothing about the military, and mean no disrespect. I do not condone what this soldier did at all. I just think that the way the current system (at least in the US in this case) is working, they will be creating more and more unstable soldiers by not giving them the support they and their families need.
    Again, I really don’t know a lot about the military, but I know about trauma. Just thought I’d add my two cents.
    Lesley Lawrence
    PS: Great blog and great article.

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