Link Between Brain Injuries And Violence…And The Afghan Shooter

The US soldier who allegedly opened fire on several Afghan civilians arrived at the maximum-security military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas last Friday, according to his civilian attorney, John Henry Browne.  The soldier has been identified as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

Prior to the move to Leavenworth, Bales was held in protective custody, in Kuwait, and was described by Browne as seemingly distant, like a deer in headlights.  He also said that Bales had not wanted to deploy to Afghanistan.  “He was told that he was not going to be redeployed,” Browne explained. “The family was counting on him not being redeployed. I think it would be fair to say he and the family were not happy that he was going back.”

Browne said that his client is a highly decorated soldier and joined the military following 9/11.  He was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in the Tacoma, Washington area.

While serving, Bales lost part of his foot in addition to sustaining a traumatic brain injury.  And, just the day before the shootings, Bales witnessed a “fellow soldier” get his leg blown off.

Bales now stands accused of leaving Camp Belambay, early in the morning on March 11, and traveling to neighboring villages, on foot, in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province.  Along the way, he allegedly opened fire on 16 people, including 9 children.

According to Browne, Bales could  get the death penalty if found guilty.  “There is a discussion of the death penalty, understandably, I think, in this situation, which makes us very nervous,” he said. “It’s certainly not off the table at this point. Our hope is that maybe it will be.”

In addition to the Taliban calling off peace talks,  Afghan President Hamid Karzai has expressed outrage in regard to the rampage.  He has demanded that US troops pull back from village areas in order to allow Afghan security forces to manage those areas.

Researchers from the University Of Michigan School Of Public Health contend that young people who have suffered a recent head injury are even more likely to report having engaged in violent behavior.

From Norwood (Cincinnati) High School

1991 Yearbook

The head injuries documented in the report range along “a continuum from athletic concussions to traumatic brain injury suffered in war or a result of an accident.”

“This study looks at head injuries from a broad perspective and confirms previous findings about the connection between violence and head injuries, said lead author Sarah Stoddard, Ph.D.”


“In the fifth year of the study, 88 of the young adults said they had suffered a head injury. Of those individuals, 43 percent said they had gotten into a fight, hurt someone, or taken part in some type of violence over the following year. That compared to 34 percent of those who didn’t report a head injury.”

Combined with the brain injury (caused by an IED),  Bales was on his fourth tour of duty in a war zone.  What’s more, due to the head injury and the loss of the segment of his foot, it is believed that Bales probably also suffers from PTSD.   According to an article in Psychology Today:

“Bales enlisted within a week of the 9/11 catastrophe, which for Browne underscores that “he felt it was his duty to stand up for the United States.” Beyond that, Bales had no reports in his dossier suggesting any sort of misbehavior, and in fact had received many decorations attesting to his loyalty and valor

Although the file on Bales characterizes his traumaticbrain injury in 2010 as mild rather than severe, one Army psychiatrist (quoted by Time online on 3/14) suggests that even relatively mild concussions can cause problems later on. In his words: “What you see often with TBI is a disinhibition. TBI could be responsible if it leaves him predisposed to bipolarity or manic episodes.” Another interviewed Army psychiatrist agreed, stating that “a mild TBI certainly can contribute to irritability and impulsivity, even two years later. I don’t think it would cause somebody to snap, but I think it could be a contributing factor. . . .” Even though Bales passed a mental health exam at his home base following his vehicle-turnover concussion and was declared fit for duty, such testing is generally regarded as imperfect, even crude.

Katie Drummond reports that scientists have linked brain trauma to violent episodes. It further cites a military study suggesting the possibility that physical brain damage from a TBI can “prime” the brain for PTSD, as well as another study finding a strong connection between TBIs and aggression. One important point in the latter study is that it isn’t so much the severity of the injury that gives rise to aggressiveness as its location. And veteran soldiers with damage to their frontal lobe are most likely to display violent behavior.”

-Candice Lanier