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Soldier who killed civilians blames malaria drug

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    Posted: 08-Aug-2017 at 8:21pm
In appeal, JBLM soldier who killed Afghan civilians blames malaria drug used by Army
The appeal comes four years after the Afghan veteran was sentenced at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Western Washington for one of the most notorious U.S. war crimes of recent decades.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has asked an Army court for a special hearing to explore evidence that his massacre of 16 Afghan civilians may have been tied to a controversial malaria drug given to troops that is known to cause hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia.

During a hearing Tuesday at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, an expert for Bales, former Army public-health physician Dr. Remington Nevin, submitted affidavits arguing that Bales likely experienced hallucinations and psychosis related to either taking mefloquine, also known by the brand name Lariam, in Afghanistan or previously in Iraq.

The prescription was not considered during the investigation, and his legal team is using this in a request for the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals to review Bales’ life sentence without parole in the killings that took place March 11, 2012, in Kandahar province.

Mefloquine is a malaria-treatment medication that was commonly used by the U.S. military as a prophylactic in malaria-endemic regions, taken once a week by troops. It has been controversial since its commercial introduction in 1989, as it is known to cause neurological and vestibular problems in a small percentage of users.

Concerns inside the Defense Department began surfacing in 2002 after a string of violent deaths and suicides among soldiers and military family members at Fort Bragg, N.C. In 2004, a federal investigation found that 11 service members taking the medication experienced debilitating vertigo.

In 2009, the Defense Department issued a policy listing it as a last-choice preventive, to be used only in areas where strains are resistant to other medications.

And in 2012 and 2016, several case studies were published of troops developing brain damage as a result of taking the drug.

The U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Northern Virginia comes four years after Bales was sentenced at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Western Washington for one of the most notorious U.S. war crimes of recent decades.

Shortly after Bales murdered the Afghan civilians on March 11, 2012, retired Army psychiatrist Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie raised questions as to whether Bales had been taking mefloquine during his deployment or on his previous three trips to Iraq.

The next month, in April 2012, the Food and Drug Administration received notification from Roche, the maker of the brand-name version of mefloquine, that it had received a report from an anonymous pharmacist that a patient taking the medication had developed homicidal behavior that “led to the homicide killing of 17 Afghans.” (Initial reports cited that 17, not 16, villagers had been killed.)

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