March 15, 2012
Last weekend when I heard that a U.S. staff sergeant was suspected of
murdering 16 Afghan villagers — including women and children — in cold
blood, I had a pretty good idea what had happened.
I suspected that this sergeant at some point had sustained traumatic
brain injury (TBI), the so-called signature wound of the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan. I assumed that he was suffering from post traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD). I figured that he had done several tours of
duty. And I wondered if anyone in his unit had recently been injured or
I actually like to be proven wrong, but I was correct on this horrendous tragedy.
The suspect remains unidentified, but his lawyer, John Browne of
Seattle, and an Army official spoke out and were quoted in a story in
Thursday’s New York Times. The headline was “Accused G.I. ‘Snapped’
Under Strain, Official Says.”
The Army brass said that the suspect, a 38-year-old married dad of
two, had been feeling stressed out as he was doing his fourth combat
tour. He had done three tours in Iraq before being dispatched to
Afghanistan. These deployments were apparently putting a strain on his
In addition, the suspect was drinking the night that he went out on his deadly rampage.
According to his lawyer Browne, the suspect during one of his tours
had been an accident when his vehicle hit a bomb. He sustained a
concussion in that accident.
And Browne also claimed that the suspect had been upset that
somebody in his unit had been “gravely injured,” according to Fox News.
I’m not trying to claim that every soldier who with TBI and PTSD
goes mad and goes on a killing rampage. But for some service members,
the stress and strain is just too much.
There was another special factor in this sergeant’s case. Several
news stories have noted that the facility where the suspect had been
based, Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash., has had numerous
incidents of its soldiers committing violent acts.
The base, according to a story in The Colombian, was dubbed the
Army’s “most troubled base” by Stars and Stripes newspaper. For example,
soldiers from the base were involved in the slayings of three Afghans
in separate instances in 2010.
Suicides at the base are on the rise but most importantly, the Army
is investigating whether the base’s Madigan Army Medical Center wrongly
reversed PTSD diagnoses in soldiers.
That’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the base’s past problems.
In 2010 Army specialist Brandon Barrett, a Lewis-McChord soldier, was
shot and killed in Salt Lake City after he wounded a cop. That same
year an alum of the base, Robert Quinones, held several people hostage
in Georgia, saying he needed mental-health treatment.
And this year a man once stationed at Lewis-McChord, Benjamin Barnes, murdered a ranger in Mount Rainier National Park.
Browne said that his client didn’t want to go on another tour of
duty. There appear to be obvious reasons why he should not have been
The bottom line is that despite what the military says about making a
real effort to treat TBI and PTSD in its combat vets, it’s looking more
and more like lip service, not action.
And so we have 16 innocent people slaughtered in Afghanistan.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
email@example.com :: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.