War crime suspect reportedly suffered brain injury

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An American soldier from Norwood, Ohio stands accused of shooting 16 Afghan civilians during a recent deployment may have developed post-traumatic stress disorder after sustaining a brain injury. The shootings, which happened on earlier this month, shocked both military and civilian communities throughout the nation.

The soldier’s family members say that his brain injury changed his personality and reasoning skills. During three previous deployments, the soldier had lost part of his foot. He had also seen fellow fighters badly wounded and carried the bodies of dead combatants.

Family members and friends remember the soldier as an enthusiastic and positive person. As a teen, he was active in his small Ohio community, volunteering with disabled youths and playing high school sports. Acquaintances said that all changed after the soldier’s tours of duty, which changed him from an outgoing, caring person into a depressed and conflicted man.

During his early deployments, the man was upbeat and optimistic, an attitude that changed as he was sent to war zones three, and then four, times. Between earlier deployments, the man trained to become a recruiter, a position that would have exempted him from combat duties. The soldier’s lawyer had argued that the man’s injuries made him unfit for combat activity, but the Army decided to send him back to Afghanistan anyway.

The soldier reportedly had developed alcohol and financial problems between his deployments, conditions that his lawyers attribute to his head injury and subsequent PTSD. Physicians have said that the man likely suffered from a variety of mental problems sparked by his combat experience.

After 11 years as a combat-driven soldier, the man likely experienced difficulty in differentiating normal and war-time behavior. Doctors also accuse the military of failing to adequately treat their battle-weary troops, which increases the risk of explosive incidents such as the recent shooting.

A long and exhaustive legal process lies ahead of both the soldier and the Army. The man will likely be court-martialed in the coming weeks, and more arguments related to his brain injury and personality changes will be heard.

Source: New York Times, “At home, asking how ‘our Bobby’ became war crime suspect,” James Dao, March 18, 2012