Osama bin Laden, the infamous mass murderer who changed the world with his catastrophic terrorist act on U.S. soil, has been described as half-mad, half-genius, evil incarnate and a narcissistic sociopath. Now that he is dead many wonder if he should have been brought to trial rather than captured and killed. Whatever the outcome of such a trial would have been, many in the media have already labeled bin Laden as criminally insane.Mental disorders of the criminally insane.
What goes on in the mind of a mass murderer? Do they suffer from mental disorders
that can drive them to such horrific crimes? If that is the case, are they criminally insane? Forensic psychology tells us mass murders, as well as many other criminals, are often driven by mental disorders.
History is littered with notorious criminals. Jim Jones, Hitler, Charles Manson, John Hinckley and Osama bin Laden (just to name a few) have either been formerly diagnosed with a mental disorder or exhibit the behaviors of one. Keeping in mind that not everyone with a mental disorder commits criminal acts, it’s important to note that more than half of American prisoners have some sort of mental illness. In this first article of a two-part series, we’ll examine two mental disorders said to be the driving force behind the acts of notorious criminals.
is a complex mental disorder where sufferers have an extremely difficult time determining what is real and what is unreal. Their ability to think logically is severely impaired, they don’t exhibit normal emotional responses, nor do they behave normally in the presence of others. Though experts aren’t sure what causes it, genetics play a role. For those that are genetically at risk, environmental events
may trigger the manifestation of the illness.
About 1% of people worldwide are affected by schizophrenia. While both men and women are equally affected, women tend to develop schizophrenic behaviors later in life and they may not be as severe. In most cases schizophrenia begins in young adulthood; however, in some cases symptoms may begin at the age of 45 or older. Childhood schizophrenia is rare and may be confused with autism.
The symptoms of schizophrenia develop slowly. There may be troubles concentrating or sleeping and the person affected often withdraws and isolates from friends. Eventually psychotic symptoms develop, such as flat emotions, catatonic behavior with bizarre movement, delusional behavior, and hallucinations. Their thoughts seem to jump between unrelated topics as the result of disordered thinking.
Paranoid schizophrenia seems to be more prevalent among death row prisoners. John Hinckley has been diagnosed as schizophrenic.
While there are psychiatrists who believe there is no connection between schizophrenia and criminal acts, they do acknowledge that these patients were more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol which contributes to violent behavior. Antisocial personality disorder:
Also known as sociopathic personality disorder, it is believed that the symptoms of this illness first emerge in childhood or adolescence. Many have obvious sociopathic behaviors before they reach the age of 15. Sociopaths have a hard time with authority, get in trouble with the law, may be cruel to animals, set fires, and show extreme anger towards people in authority. There is a blatant disregard for the rights of others and a failure to conform to society’s norms.
A history of deceitfulness is common, and sociopaths often are seen as con artists. Perhaps the major component of antisocial personality disorder is the inability to feel empathy for other people. There is no remorse for any wrongdoing. They believe everyone else has a problem, not himself/herself.
Well-known examples of sociopathic personalities include Napoleon, Hitler, Dillinger, and Pretty Boy Floyd. Osama bin Laden has also been labeled a sociopath. Not guilty by reason of insanity.
Those who are charged with crimes and found not guilty by reason of insanity claim they were so mentally disturbed when the crime was committed that they lacked the mental capacity necessary to control their criminal behavior. They could not tell right from wrong. The law holds that these people should not be held criminally responsible and rather than being placed in prison, they are institutionalized with other severely mentally ill persons and the criminally insane. John Hinckley Junior, who attempted to assassinate President Reagan, was acquitted using the insanity defense.
Was Osama bin Laden legally insane? Opinions vary but most agree his terroristic acts reeked both of pure evil and insanity. Now that he is dead, we’ll never fully understand his twisted reasoning behind the 9/11 attacks.
Stay tuned for part two of this series, as we continue to take a look at mental disorders of the criminally insane.