Alcohol, strictly forbidden by the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan, is involved in a growing number of crimes committed by troops deployed to those countries. Alcohol- and drug-related charges were involved in more than a third of all Army criminal prosecutions of soldiers in the two war zones — 240 of the 665 cases resulting in convictions, according to records obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Seventy-three of those 240 cases involve some of the most serious crimes committed, including murder, rape, armed robbery and assault. Sex crimes accounted for 12 of the convictions.
The 240 cases involved a roughly equal number of drug and alcohol offenses, although alcohol-related crimes have increased each year since 2004.
Despite the military’s ban on all alcoholic beverages — and strict Islamic prohibitions against drinking and drug use — liquor is cheap and ever easier to find for soldiers looking to self-medicate the effects of combat stress, depression or the frustrations of extended deployments, said military defense lawyers, commanders and doctors who treat soldiers’ emotional problems.
“It’s clear that we’ve got a lot of significant alcohol problems that are pervasive across the military,” said Dr. Thomas R. Kosten, a psychiatrist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston. He traces their drinking and drug use to the stress of working in a war zone. “The treatment that they take for it is the same treatment that they took after Vietnam,” Dr. Kosten said. “They turn to alcohol and drugs.”