April 10, 2012
of Robert Bales, mass murderer, has pretty much disappeared from the
headlines: news of the grisly killing spree, during which he
slaughtered nine children and eight adults, has been displaced by
the sudden "discovery" that 100,000-plus US soldiers are
heavily medicated with anti-depressants and other drugs, as well as
much talk of "PTSD" and discussion of how multiple
deployments are "unfair" to those who have signed up to
fight America’s imperialist wars.
short, the excuse-making has begun. In a signal that the case may
never even come to trial – an outcome the US military is no
doubt desperately hoping for – it has been announced that a
"sanity hearing" will precede the actual trial. This is
unusual in itself: normal procedure is to go ahead with the court
martial first, and determine if the perpetrator was mentally
incapacitated at the time of the crime later. As the military’s
Manual for Court Martial
accused lacking the mental capacity to understand the punishment to
be suffered or the reason for imposition of the death sentence may
not be put to death during any period when such incapacity exists.
The accused is presumed to have such mental capacity. If a
substantial question is raised as to whether the accused lacks
capacity, the convening authority then exercising general court
martial jurisdiction over the accused shall order a hearing on the
to hold such a hearing before referral of charges is up to "the
convening authority," i.e. Bales’s commanding officer,
and, presumably, higher ups in the Pentagon who are no doubt
choreographing every legal step in this case. Bales’s defense
lawyer, John Henry Browne, may have submitted a request for a sanity
hearing, but the Convening Authority was under no obligation to
regulations governing these
hearings, the sanity board considering Bales’s case can
consist of a single individual, or several, all of whom must be
either physicians or clinical psychologists. These wise men are
tasked with answering four key questions:
Bales have "a severe mental defect" when he committed his
horrific crime? In order to qualify as "severe," this
defect may "not include an abnormality manifested only by
repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct," nor does
it include "nonpsychotic behavior disorders or personality
Bales crazy? Or, as the Manual
puts it, "What is the clinical psychiatric diagnosis?"
he went out and slaughtered 17 Afghan civilians as if they were
cattle, did Bales "appreciate the nature and quality or
wrongfulness of his or her conduct?"
Bales "able to understand the nature of the proceedings
against" him and is he able to "cooperate intelligently"
with defense counsel?
"Danger Room" is telling
us the standards for meeting
the requirements of a successful insanity defense are oh-so-hard
(and, implicitly, unfair), but this is clearly untrue: the
regulations give the sanity board wide scope, leaving it up to them
to determine if "other appropriate questions" are to be
included in their report.
piece from Bloomberg informs
us that, in a secret Pentagon briefing to reporters, an anonymous
former judge advocate said he can’t recall a single instance
in which someone got off claiming the effects of PTSD, which is
furthermore described as the defense’s "only card."
the judge can recall the case of Lt. William Calley, whose crimes –
eerily similar to Bales’s, albeit on a grander scale – have
come to signify the folly of the Vietnam war. Calley got off
practically scot free, but what’s interesting is why he didn’t
pursue an insanity plea.
was examined by two
psychiatrists who concluded he suffered from "a serious
psychotic condition." According
to columnist Jack Anderson,
writing in 1972, one of them gave Calley "a
battery of tests, including an experimental one under marijuana, in
September 1970. … The results reflect[ed] a very serious
personality and mental disorder which has the tendency to become
full-blown and uncontrollable under such circumstances as may have
existed at the My Lai atrocities." The other quack
psychologist solemnly concurred:
picture of an over-inhibited personality structure fraught with
internal conflict between impulses and repressive forces is sharply
with this potential ammunition, Calley’s defense counsel,
described by Anderson as "dignified old George Latimer, the
former military appeals judge who was both father figure and chief
counsel for Calley," conferred with his client, and
ultimately decided not to use the report at trial. As Anderson put
its harshest terms, the question was: Would Calley want to risk
being branded a murderer or a madman? Both the lieutenant and
Latimer decided irrevocably against claiming insanity."
was a different era, a time – which now seems like it must
have occurred in an alternate universe – when Americans didn’t
wear their mental illnesses like badges of honor. It was long before
the Crazy Community had "come out of the closet," so to
speak, and gone on Oprah to discuss their inner nuttiness, which
they had so successfully hidden from their spouses and closest
friends. Back then, it was considered shameful
not to take responsibility for one’s actions: unlike Bales,
who claims not to remember a thing about the killings, Calley
admitted his crime but claimed he had been ordered to carry out the
days, however, it is quite a different story: our culture of
victimology, in which no one is responsible for anything, is a
get-out-of-jail-free card, and Americans have no compunctions about
playing it. The archaic concept of shame has been banished from the
culture, to be replaced by a medicalized "explanation"
(i.e. excuse) for our every action. In post-imperial America, a
decadent and declining empire with the morals of Nero’s Rome,
there is no good, and no evil – only helpless individuals
buffeted about by their abusive parents, their "traumas,"
and their medications.
is likely to be long and involved, and I make no predictions as to
the outcome: however, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he
gets off with life imprisonment, or less. While the rules and
atmosphere of a military court make it harder for the defense to
pull off a PTSD plea, the "no blame" cultural ethos
permeates every aspect of American society, including our military,
and the decision to precede the trial with a sanity hearing may
prefigure just such an outcome.
meantime, while the "mainstream" media is running
interviews with Bales’s wife, who appears to be in complete
denial, and writing long articles on the generally debilitated
mental state of our military, questions as to how the military has
conducted its investigation arise.
did it take the army three weeks to return to the village and
collect forensic evidence? The official excuse is that they didn’t
want to antagonize angry villagers – except, as Marcy Wheeler
out, the villagers had vacated
the crime scenes, which were undoubtedly compromised in the interim.
This hardly portends a desire to get the facts in this case. In
addition, Marcy raises some intriguing
questions about the number of
soldiers involved: the official story is just one, Bales, but
discrepancies in that narrative combined with the testimony of
Afghan witnesses indicate otherwise.
"mainstream" media isn’t interested in these
discrepancies, however: they are too busy thinking up excuses for
Bales, their PTSD poster boy: they’re eager to spin another
sob story about how our poor persecuted Praetorians are carrying the
Burden of Empire all by their lonesomes, ever since we got rid of
the draft and went to a professional army. The narrative is usually
capped by a solemn sermon on the need for "shared sacrifice,"
whatever that may mean.
striking about all this is the focus on Bales instead of his
victims. Was he on medications? What about that "traumatic"
brain injury? Had he been drinking? What was his childhood like –
his marriage, his work history? Isn’t it true that "he
loved children" (touted by Matt Lauer)?
the victims, even their names are rarely reported.
Henry Browne has declared he intends to put "the war" on
trial, but this is less promising than it sounds. Unless he intends
to claim, as Calley did, that his client was only following orders,
what this no doubt means is that the "stress" and
"strain" of warfare, as conducted under the current
rules of engagement, is at fault, and that his client succumbed.
This is not putting the war on trial – it is pandering to the
same culture of irresponsibility that gave rise to this war in the
soldiers who grew up in and absorbed this cultural ethos are, in a
sense, insane, is an argument I doubt Browne would
care to make. Yet how else can we describe the guilt-free shame-free
amorality that allows us to devastate an entire region in the name
of "liberation" and "peace"? When Madeleine
Albright replied to a question from journalist Leslie Stahl about
the half a million children who died in Iraq due to US sanctions,
averring "We think the price is worth it," she was
expressing a view that used to be considered crazy. If Bales is
insane, then so are the policymakers who made this war possible and
prosecuted it long after its utility and justice were in serious