Soldier who massacred 16 Afghans, identified as Sgt Robert Bales

Published: March 17, 2012

Afghan men investigate at the site of an shooting incident in Kandahar province, March 11, 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON: The soldier implicated in the massacre of 16 villagers in Afghanistan - an incident that sent American-Afghan relations into a tailspin – has been identified as US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a US official said on Friday.

The official declined to provide additional details about Bales, who is suspected of walking off his base in southern Afghanistan on Sunday and gunning down 16 villagers.

Earlier, the soldier’s attorney said the staff sergeant was scheduled to arrive on Friday at the Fort Leavenworth army base in Kansas, where he will be held in maximum security. Fort Leavenworth has the US Defense Department’s only maximum-security facility.

The 38-year-old soldier, whose military unit is based south of Tacoma, Washington, had been held in Kuwait after he was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Bales has not yet been charged in the incident.

“I would assume he’ll be charged pretty fast,” said Jeffrey Lustick, a defense attorney and former Air Force military prosecutor and defense attorney in Bellingham, Washington.

The soldier is expected to face justice under US military rules, but it is not clear where any trial would take place.

Seattle attorney John Henry Browne told Reuters that post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, would likely be part of the defense of the four-tour veteran.

“It is commonly used in military defense,” he said, calling it a mitigating factor. Browne has said the soldier was unhappy about returning to combat after being wounded twice in Iraq.

He added on Friday that the man had witnessed a serious injury to a comrade the day before the massacre in the southern province of Kandahar on Sunday.

“One leg was blown off,” Browne said, and the sergeant was nearby. Browne or a colleague from the defense team plan to meet the sergeant next week, he said.

It is believed that the soldier walked off the Belambai base in the middle of the night last Sunday and began shooting Afghan villagers in two nearby villages, according to a congressional source.

The shooting of villagers has harmed relations between Afghanistan and the United States. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused the Pentagon of failing to fully cooperate with an investigation into the killings.

Browne told CNN that he had spoken with his client earlier in the morning, and in the short conversation the soldier “sounded distant and kind of like a deer in the headlights, but okay.”

At a news conference on Thursday, Browne described his client as “an exemplary soldier” who was upset at having to do a fourth tour of duty in a war zone and was likely suffering from stress after seeing colleagues wounded.

An unnamed US official had told The New York Times that the killings were a result of “a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped.”

But Browne said on CNN that marital problems were “totally bogus.” He said his client has a “very strong marriage and frankly we’re all taking offense at that.”

Karzai met with village elders and families of victims of the shootings on Friday and appeared to back their belief that a single gunman could not have killed so many people and in different places some distance apart.

On Thursday Karzai called for NATO troops to leave Afghan villages and confine themselves to major bases, underscoring fury over the massacre and clouding US plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • anybodyagree
    Mar 17, 2012 - 5:09AM

    like before nothing will happen, the life of ordinary Muslim had no value at all.. . ..???? ,

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 17, 2012 - 5:35AM

    Never gonna happend like allways before in iraq what they did in falooja and got off easally
    its a justice for white man if there are some other skin involved then may be some….

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  • Ali
    Mar 17, 2012 - 7:49AM

    Punitive action? Like Raymond Davis was promised to be tried? Raymond Davis was the American killer who murdered two citizens in Lahore, Pakistan?

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  • Mr. Righty rightist
    Mar 17, 2012 - 8:34AM

    @anybodyagree writes “like before nothing will happen, the life of ordinary Muslim had no value at all.. . ..????”

    Unfortunately, that’s true. Don’t you remember what happened after 1971? Or what is happening in Balochistan!!!

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  • Ahmer Ali
    Mar 17, 2012 - 9:55AM

    Only US’ soldiers and diplomats are allowed to kill any one any where in the world and have full immunity and exemption from any legal prosecutions in any countries doesn’t matter how many innocent people they kill.
    How much more this is effrontery and shameful act!!!!!!!

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  • Basit
    Mar 17, 2012 - 9:57AM

    We are all awaiting the passionate defence of this American act by Pakistani liberal Mirza. We, Pakistani liberals take all our direction from commentator Mirza.

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  • Gul Khan
    Mar 17, 2012 - 11:19AM

    @Basit
    Agree with you. I usually wait for Mirza’s comments on incidents like these but as usual he/she won’t respond on this occasion.

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  • Mar 17, 2012 - 11:55AM

    Every single Afghan (Taliban) fighting the ISAF in Afghanistan has Post Traumatic Disorder due to thirty years of violence in their country. Shouldn’t they be resting in Rehab Centers in the US instead, once they are caught; and have immunity to imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Detention?

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  • Zeta
    Mar 17, 2012 - 3:59PM

    @Mr. Righty rightist:
    71 is greatly exaggerated by indian propagandists. an utter lie
    Before pointing fingers at us, look at what your own forces are doing in Kashmir.

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  • Mar 17, 2012 - 5:09PM

    Muslim blood is cheaper than non-muslim

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  • Realist
    Mar 17, 2012 - 6:38PM

    Well, they should have resisted more against the occupation. When you let yourself occupied by another country, this happens.

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  • raja multani
    Mar 17, 2012 - 7:24PM

    He exit the base alone? B.S.
    And he was armed with lethal weapons and no one stopped him when he left? Quite possible.
    Its not a one man crime. Several others must be held responsible.
    Why was he allowed to leave his base in the first place?
    Kill innocent civilians just because you are suffering from some non sense PSTD? Isn’t US Army full of mental patients? Even the commanders are out of their minds. All these &&%*&% need lobotomy.

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  • anwar
    Mar 17, 2012 - 10:43PM

    What about the other 19 who participated in the killing

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  • MarkH
    Mar 18, 2012 - 5:13AM

    Nearly all words in the comments fall short of mattering because even now, in the beginning of the process, more has been done than any Muslim under Muslim authority would receive for killing non-Muslims. Your complaining is expected. You do it to the very same extent no matter how big or little the issue is. Their friends and family having extreme and maybe even violent outbursts are hard to condemn. But the rest of you are just a bunch of hypocritical opportunists.

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  • Cautious
    Mar 18, 2012 - 8:57PM

    @Ali

    Punitive action? Like Raymond Davis
    was promised to be tried? Raymond
    Davis was the American killer who
    murdered two citizens in Lahore,
    Pakistan?

    An American court cannot try someone for a crime committed in Pakistan when your own court system says he has paid the penalty for the crime. It’s one of those double jeopardy things. It’s not the American’s fault that your justice system has a religious component which allows the wealthy to write a check and walk free. If Pakistan had simply released him under diplomatic immunity then a trial would be possible.

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  • j. von hettlingen
    Mar 19, 2012 - 2:18AM

    Bales should have been kept in Afghanistan and face trial there. They are not at all pleased that he “escaped” from Afghan jurisdiction.

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  • Larry Caudill
    Mar 19, 2012 - 2:59AM

    This soldier has been asked to go way above and beyond anything we can imagine in the service to his country. He has been asked to leave a wife, two young children and all his friends and family not once, not twice, but four times. We don”t condone his actions, but pray for mercy for a man who has been stretched beyond endurance. The military made him the way he became, so the military should take responsibility and give him the resources he needs to recover instead of bowing to the wishes of the Afghan people. Please don’t harm this man. He has served our country when so many of us won’t.

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  • anwar
    Mar 19, 2012 - 7:11AM

    Words of R. Fisk

    I’m getting a bit tired of the “deranged” soldier story. It was predictable, of course. The 38-year-old staff sergeant who massacred 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, near Kandahar this week had no sooner returned to base than the defence experts and the think-tank boys and girls announced that he was “deranged”. Not an evil, wicked, mindless terrorist – which he would be, of course, if he had been an Afghan, especially a Taliban – but merely a guy who went crazy.
    This was the same nonsense used to describe the murderous US soldiers who ran amok in the Iraqi town of Haditha. It was the same word used about Israeli soldier Baruch Goldstein who massacred 25 Palestinians in Hebron – something I pointed out in this paper only hours before the staff sergeant became suddenly “deranged” in Kandahar province.

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