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U.S. soldier who murdered Afghan civilians will blame controversial malaria drug

Published: August 9, 2017
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Source: Denver Post

An Army court will decide this week whether to review and perhaps reduce the life sentence of a soldier who massacred Afghan civilians — and in the process it will judge a controversial malaria drug given to troops that is known to cause hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia.

Attorneys for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the serviceman convicted in 2013 of killing 16 Afghans in the worst U.S. military massacre since Vietnam, are expected to raise the soldier’s use of mefloquine, also known by the brand name Lariam, before or during his deployment.

The prescription was not considered during the investigation and his legal team will use this as the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals weighs whether Bales is entitled to a new sentencing hearing on two procedural issues — whether the prosecution failed to disclose evidence related to his case and that the court failed to investigate a military judge’s disclosure of protected information.

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 following 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 troops taking the medication experienced debilitating vertigo.

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