The tragedy of an American soldier running amok and murdering families in Afghanistan is horrific. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales has been charged with killing 17 civilians, and is now facing a criminal trial. The question that must be answered is: Why did this happen?
Is Sgt. Bales fully responsible, or was he driven to it? New evidence has come out to suggest that the cause was not simply a breakdown from being stressed to the breaking point—though that needs to be held as part of the reason, whether it’s the whole story or not.
However, we now have strong indications that there was a mitigating factor, one that could be the trigger. Soldiers in Afghanistan are routinely given the drug mefloquine (generic for Lariam), which is known to cause drug-induced psychosis. Interestingly, though the Army is quick to claim that there’s no connection between mefloquine and what happened, they refuse to say yea or nay when asked whether it had been given to Bales. They’re claiming that they must respect his privacy. As we’ll see later, that’s a blatantly phony excuse.
Interestingly, mefloquine is not meant to be an antipsychotic or antidepressant or any other psychoactive drug. Its purpose is to prevent malaria. Nonetheless, it has long been noted for its ability to trigger confused and violent manias that end in suicide, murder, or both. The military is fully aware of its effects. In 2009, an order was issued stating that Lariam must not be given to soldiers who have suffered brain injuries, have symptoms of them, or deal with depression or anxiety.
Sgt. Bales’ record is quite clear that he received a traumatic brain injury in a previous tour of duty. If he was given mefloquine, it most assuredly should not have been.
In 2004, Bill Howell was home from deployment in Iraq. UPI reported:
[At 9:27 p.m., his wife Laura phoned 911 and said,] “”My husband just hit me, and he’s going downstairs to get his gun.”
Laura Howell hung up and slipped out a door, but her husband cornered her between the garage and their truck parked in front of it. He took a .357-caliber revolver from his waistband and pointed it in her face. “You are going to watch this. You are going to watch this,” Bill said to his wife — meaning watch as he shot her in the face.
Police were approaching through a neighbor’s yard. Bill was left-handed. Laura wondered later whether from their angle the police could see the high-powered handgun. “It was huge. Huge,” she said of the gun. As the police drew near, she knocked his hand up and away.
In the next moment, Bill Howell put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger. The bullet went up and back through his head. A policeman simultaneously shot him in the arm, but it was his own gun that killed Chief Warrant Officer Bill Howell.
In 2002, UPI also reported that three soldiers from Fort Bragg were suspected of killing their wives. All three were described by friends as displaying unusual anger and being incoherent after returning from Afghanistan deployment. All three soldiers, Sergeant First Class Brandon Floyd, Master Sergeant William Wright, and Sergeant First Class Rigoberto Nieves were all given mefloquine.
Only Wright was charged with murdering his wife. The other two killed themselves after killing their wives. Descriptions of their behavior beforehand included, “increasingly bad”, “extremely verbally abusive”, acting very strange”, “difficulty relating to us”, “stutter and stammer a lot”, and “hands shaking”.
Wright told his attorney that he’d had a sensation of floating since leaving Afghanistan.
Mefloquine/Lariam has left a string of bodies and shattered lives.
Robert Benjamin, who has done extensive reporting on mefloquine, told Democracy Now! that he had investigated the Bill Howel incident, finding that the only possible explanation was the drug he’d taken, mefloquine. Benjamin also reports that the Peace Corps had used the same drug with the same kinds of problems.
Although the Army denies any connection, the fact is that they ordered an emergency review of mefloquine use on 20 March to assure that soldiers weren’t being given mefloquine inappropriately. Bales killed 17 people on 11 March. No connection with the murder spree? Let’s see:
Why, after 2-3 years since the official order saying that mefloquine was to be given only in limited situations, would it suddenly be “urgent” to do a review, if not for what Bales did?
A former Army forensic psychiatrist, Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, has expressed concern. She states that it’s doubtful alcohol could have caused such a reaction; that even the local Afghan brews, which can contain formaldehyde, cause a different sort of violence that can end in suicide; and that the locally available drugs are opium-based, which cause a response that’s the opposite of violence. She did say that some soldiers have amphetamines and similar drugs mailed to them. However, it would seem obvious that, with the way the military has already tried to control this story, if they could make that claim, they’d have done so. Ritchie makes clear that we need to know if Bales was taking mefloquine. The tone of her article implies that, if so, it’s the likely cause of his murderous spree.
Mefloquine is described by the Mail Online as “notorious”. It’s known to cause drug-induced hallucinations, paranoia, and psychotic & violent behavior. The drug was nearly banned in 2009, instead of being allowed only when no other options were available and the soldier had no contraindications for it.
Army Major Dr. Remington Nevin is an epidemiologist who has published research on mefloquine. He says bluntly:
‘Mefloquine is a zombie drug. It’s dangerous, and it should have been killed off years ago.
To further compound the tragedy of mefloquine is that, once it has induced psychosis, it doesn’t necessarily go away. And that appears to be the case with Sgt. Bales. His attorney, John Henry Brown, reports that he appears to have mental health issues and memory loss, both of which are likely effects of the drug.
The Army is obviously scrambling to keep the flow of information from hemorrhaging worse than it is. Nonetheless, the only salient fact they seem to have been able to quell is whether Sgt. Bales was given mefloquine. Though we don’t know for sure, it’s hard to believe that any betting parlor would offer odds against it. Bales’ behavior was, by all reports, completely out of character. Though the Army has tried to spin a tale of a young man in debt and with a marriage on the rocks—a suggestion that appears to be far from the truth as his wife has spoken convincingly in his defense—they seem unable to find anything that can indicate Bales acted without inducement.
The information that they have put out, including the highly private statements about his marriage and financial affairs, clearly indicate that the Army hasn’t the slightest concern for Bales’ privacy. Therefore, the claim that they’re withholding information about whether he was taking mefloquine rings false.
There is, though, another nasty player: Roche Pharmaceuticals, mefloquine’s manufacturer. They had been given a gift by the military, which developed the drug: sole rights to market it. Thus, their development costs were relatively limited, so they cannot fall back on the excuse that they had large costs to recover.
Nonetheless, as reporter Mark Benjamin stated to Democracy Now!:
The drug has been manufactured by Roche Pharmaceuticals for several decades. … The U.S. Army invented it, gave the patent to a manufacturer named Roche Pharmaceuticals. Roche Pharmaceuticals has, for years, particularly over the last decade when I’ve been reporting on the drug, resisted, I think it’s fair to say, putting increasing warnings on its drug label. It has done so reluctantly under pressure from the FDA. …
… The other thing that’s interesting about the drug label that Roche puts out is that it says on the drug label an interesting thing about Lariam. I mentioned how it crosses the blood-brain barrier. …once the damage is done in the brain, it’s done. In other words, it’s not like you can just wait until this drug gets out of your system, and then you’re OK. … It’s like being hit in the head with a hammer. And it says that on the drug label. It says that sometimes it doesn’t matter whether you stop taking the pills. If you have problems, they last, quote, long after, unquote, people stop taking the drug.
Roche and the Army are both fully aware of the risks posed by Lariam/mefloquine. If it does prove true that Staff Sergeant Robert Bales’ actions were caused by it, both need to answer. Both the Army and Roche Pharmaceuticals have collaborated in the devastation caused by the drug for which they are both responsible.
Of course, as we’ve seen over and over again, both will do anything to avoid accepting that responsibility. That’s obvious from their past actions. The Army obviously cares little for either the people under its command or anyone they contact, and Roche’s concern can only be described as profit-motivated.
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