In the wake of the Laude killing:

Congress asked to probe US forces’ behavior & “state of mental health”  -- CenPEG

The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) today supported inquiries on the Oct. 12 murder of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in Olongapo City being sought by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago in the Senate and the Makabayan bloc in the lower House. Murder charges have been filed against the suspect, Pvt. 1st Class Joseph Scott Pemberton of the US Marine Corps. 

Prof. Bobby Tuazon, CenPEG’s Director for Policy Studies, said congressional investigations should be pushed in the wake of disturbing studies in the US showing a high percentage of US soldiers including Marines who are suffering from mental illness such as depression, panic disorder or ADHD, and suicidal tendencies. 

The style of Laude’s killing which some reports call a “hate crime” points to the urgent need to seriously look into significant findings by studies in the US about problems of mental health among American soldiers and the possible implications regarding the presence of US armed personnel in the Philippines, Tuazon said. 

“I’m not saying that whoever killed Laude was mentally-impaired,” Tuazon said. “But psychological studies conducted by the US Army, Marine Corps, Harvard University, and other agencies revealing alarming trends on the state of mental health of their troops are a matter of security concern to Filipino people especially with the expected entry of tens of thousands of these forces under EDCA.” 

A survey conducted by Harvard sociologists published in JAMA Psychiatry last March found nearly 1 out of 5 US soldiers afflicted with common mental ailments, Tuazon said. A separate report by Pentagon in 2012 revealed a spike in suicide cases a ong soldiers with at least 8,000 incidents in one year alone after combat tours, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and drug and alcohol abuse, among other causes. 

Tuazon said the reports in fact prompted President Barack Obama in 2012 to order the upgrading of mental health treatment in the US military in the wake of what he called “epidemic of suicides.”  Citing another report, Tuazon said 60% of US Marines in Afghanistan who responded to a confidential survey in 2013 refused to reveal their psychological health problems.  Whether in war zones or non-war zones in many countries US forces have figured in the killing of civilians – sometimes rationalized as “collateral damage” – as well as other crimes such as rape and other forms of physical violence. In Japan, for instance, many US marines have been convicted for committing rapes against women including schoolchildren. 

Such crimes may not be entirely blamed on the state of mental health, however, Tuazon explained. “US troops operating in foreign territories, whether in Iraq or the Philippines, come from a country noted for a culture of violence, serial killings, school massacres, and a pro-gun society,” he said. American power supremacy promotes arrogance, superiority, racism, and other unwelcome behavior among US combat troops, he added. 

The scientific researches over which high US officials themselves are disturbed, Tuazon said, should be a wake-up call to the Aquino government to heed the demand for reviewing if not abrogating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Expanded Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).  At the very least while these onerous agreements are under view, no US forces should be allowed entry unless they show their medical and mental evaluation as attested to by their commanders, Tuazon said. 

“As a sovereign country, we should not allow rape, murder, and other crimes committed by foreign forces who mock our justice system,” he said. He recalled that at the peak of US military bases in the Philippines in the 1950s-1980s, a high record of crimes were committed by their armed servicemen but were allowed to evade the law at will.   

Philippine authorities can no longer justify that VFA and EDCA help enhance national security against “external threats.” “If they’re looking for external threat, they don’t need to look far. The threat to the country’s security is already here,” Tuazon said.

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