Our troops have seen bullets and shrapnel kill and eviscerate hundreds and thousands of their friends. They have had to work under the constant pressure that this same fate could befall them at any time. Many of our GIs have served two or more six month tours in Iraq under these conditions. A large percentage are mentally collapsing under the strain.
A UPI article "10% at Army Hospital had Mental Problems" quotes Colonel Rhonda Cornum, commander of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany as saying (at the time of the article, February 18, 2004) 'Between 8 and 10 percent of the nearly 12,000 soldiers from the war on terror, mostly from Iraq, treated at [the hospital] had "psychiatric or behavioral health issues"', http://www.upi.com/archive/view.php?archive=1&StoryID=20040218-020757-3188r
That was after one year of the war. After nearly four years, how much more has the cumulative effect of the conflict torn at the fabric of our troops' mental health?
We see three clear indications that there is a serious problem:
1. A growing number of our troops are going violently insane and attacking Iraqi civilians and prisoners of war:
- Dec 21, 2006, eight Marines accused of killing or refusing to report the killing of up to 24 Iraqi civilians.
- June 22, 2006, seven Marines and a Navy Corpsman charged with murder, conspiracy and other charges involving the murder of at least one Iraqi civilian
- Nov 19, 2005, several Marines go berserk and kill 19 Iraqis including at least one in a wheelchair.
These incidents along with Abu Graib and other detention center incidents show that terrible conditions and long deployments are causing our troops to come apart at the seams.
2. The above report from the Army Colonel that shows how many troops are breaking down and needing to be evacuated to hospitals in Europe for mental issues.
3. Over one in six of the 589,000 Iraq War veterans who have returned home have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress disorder according to this article http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=534866 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The article goes on to say that the number is expected to grow and exceed the rates of PTSD for Vietnam because the disease can take several months to manifest itself and diagnosis can take even longer. A recent 60 minutes segment on the problems faced by Iraq war vets coming home and reintegrating with their families and society was heartbreaking.
I can come to only one conclusion when examining the situation concerning the conditions our troops are faced with and the overwhelming evidence of what it is doing to their mental health. Those of our troops accused of crimes in the Iraq war should be pardoned. The formality of a trial should still be afforded so that all the facts can be ascertained, but once the trial is complete, should any US Service Member be found guilty, they should be pardoned and sent to the best facilities available to assist with their mental health issues.
It is our fault that this happened to them. When I say 'our' I mean everyone who is a citizen of the United States. It is in our name that they are there fighting. I know that certain segments of our nation deserve more of a share of the blame, namely those who were in favor of this war from the beginning, but it does not mean that the rest of us do not still share some of it.
We all need to come together to support the Iraq war veterans who come home and their families in every way. That includes understanding that we put them in a terrible situation and that it is completely understandable for anyone to break and commit crimes in that situation.