US suspect ID'd in Afghan massacre

2012-03-17 21:04

New York - After five days cloaked in military secrecy, the US soldier suspected in a massacre of 16 Afghan civilians has finally been identified, adding a critical detail to the still-sketchy portrait beginning to emerge.

A senior US official says the soldier accused in the killings is Army Staff Sgt Robert Bales.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation into an incident that has roiled relations with Afghanistan.

Bales, who is 38, is a husband and father of two young children and a veteran who was in the midst of his fourth tour in a war zone. But because of a tightly controlled flow of information, many of the details are incomplete and difficult to verify. Most information about the suspect - before he was identified - has come from two camps, each representing particular interests.

There's the US government, almost always represented by the voices of unidentified "senior military officials." On the other side, there's the civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, a veteran criminal defence attorney from Seattle, near Bales' home base.

Until late on Friday, both had refused to divulge Bales' name, placing sharp limitations on efforts to evaluate the information presented about the soldier - no chance to interview family members, close friends, neighbours or fellow soldiers. And no chance to examine official records.

Even seemingly straightforward information raises questions that are not easily answered, at least for now - such as a possible defence of post-traumatic stress disorder.

For example, the suspect now identified as Bales lost part of one foot because of injuries suffered in Iraq during one of his three tours of duty there, his lawyer said. Browne also said that when the 11-year veteran heard he was being sent to Afghanistan late last year, he did not want to go.

He also said that a day before the rampage through two villages, the soldier saw a comrade's leg blown off.


The same goes for the possibility alcohol played a role.

On Friday, a senior US defence official said Bales was drinking alcohol in the hours before the attack on Afghan villagers, violating a US military order banning alcohol in war zones. The official discussed the matter on condition of anonymity because charges have not yet been filed.

Browne said his client's family told him they were not aware of any drinking problem - not necessarily a contradiction. Pressed on the issue in interviews with news organizations, Browne said he did not know if his client had been drinking the night of the massacre.

The soldier was being flown Friday to the US military's only maximum-security prison, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, said a senior defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security surrounding the move.

The move to the US does not necessarily mean an announcement of formal criminal charges is imminent, a defence official said.

Browne has said the suspect is originally from the Midwest but now lives near Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. His children are 3 and 4.

The sergeant's family says they saw no signs of aggression or anger. "They were totally shocked," by accounts of the massacre, Browne said. "He's never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He's in general very mild-mannered."

Bales, said to have received sniper training, is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is based at Lewis-McChord and has been dispatched to Iraq three times since 2003, military officials say.

The soldier was injured twice in Iraq, Browne said. A battle-related injury required surgery to remove part of one foot, the lawyer said.

Head injury

But Browne and government officials differ in their portrayal of a second injury, to the soldier's head, in a vehicle accident.

A government official said this week that the accident was not related to combat. But Browne said the man suffered a concussion in an accident caused by an improvised explosive device.

Browne also said his client was "highly decorated," but did not provide any specifics.

When he returned to the Seattle area, the staff sergeant at first thought he would not be required to join his unit when it shipped out for Afghanistan, the lawyer said. His family thought he was done fighting and was counting on him staying home.

Until orders came dispatching him to Afghanistan, he was training to be a military recruiter, Browne said.

"He wasn't thrilled about going on another deployment," Browne said. "He was told he wasn't going back, and then he was told he was going."

Bales arrived in Afghanistan in December. On February 1 he was assigned to a base in the Panjwai District, near Kandahar, to work with a village stability force that pairs special operations troops with villagers to help provide neighbourhood security.

Buddy lost a leg

On Saturday, the day before the shooting spree, Browne said, the soldier saw his friend's leg blown off. Browne said his client's family provided him with that information, which has not been verified.

The other soldier's "leg was blown off, and my client was standing next to him," he said.

Browne said he did not know if his client had been suffering from PTSD, but said it could be an issue at trial if experts believe it's relevant. Experts on PTSD said witnessing the injury of a fellow soldier and the soldier's own previous injuries put him at risk.

"We've known ever since the Vietnam war that the unfortunate phenomenon of abusive violence often closely follows the injury or death of a buddy in combat," said Dr Roger Pitman, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist who heads the PTSD Research Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"The injury or death of a buddy creates a kind of a blind rage."

  • Cayle - 2012-03-17 21:36

    where is his apology at the very least!

      Dries - 2012-03-18 06:26

      Cayle and others, before you say anything more just shutup....if you did not go through army training and then contact on more than one occasion then shut the F...up.. You and other pen pushers are quick to open your mouths and grab a pen but don’t have a foggiest idea what the troops goes through…go work in a army hospital and see for yourself that the troops are going through

      bluzulu - 2012-03-18 06:59

      @ Dries, Then why join the army . These G.I Joes sit around in their Lounges playing killzone thinking this is war. The American foreign policy has caused untold emotional and mental damage to successive American generations through their warmongering.

      Fred - 2012-03-18 07:13

      bluzulu, warmongering is the wrong term. Saddam Hussein was a warmonger. He invaded countries will-nilly, just because they were there.

      bluzulu - 2012-03-18 07:35

      @ Fred, Check out the history, Who put Saddam in power in the first place,,,,aaahhh Tis the US cos' he was a dictator that controlled his people via violence and was their stooge. As soon as he deviated from the US agenda suddenly his a terrorist . Why was the democratic rights of the Iraqi people not a consideration when the US installed Saddam to power...Answer, cos it was in the US best interest.

      bluzulu - 2012-03-18 11:04

      @ Fred , Sounds like the US would fit that mould as well,

      Fred - 2012-03-18 20:46

      That's a faulty and simplified version of Middle East politics during the 1960's and 1970's. The US did not put Saddam Hussein in power.

  • darryndw - 2012-03-17 22:02

    so it makes it right for him to kill young kids and woman they are not solders

  • robbieyahu - 2012-03-17 22:48

    there's much more here than meets the eye ..... false-flag ops are known to us and this reeks of it ...... this is a hardened soldier ...3 times in war zone .... foot partialy lost in previous skirmishes ??? nah he is an "old hand" ...sent to afganistan in feb ...bombs in march ...few days only ......

  • corneliusjansen2 - 2012-03-18 02:15

    what do innoccent children and unarmed civilians have to do with this war? He should be executed publically in afghanistan. Mental illness or PTS is no excuse. He needs to be shot like the dog that he is.

      Fred - 2012-03-18 06:32

      This is inhuman.

      John - 2012-03-18 07:20

      Cornelius, War doesn't have a human face. I've seen 12 year boy shooting with AK-47 and grannies smuggling IED's behind controled areas....don't try to judge unseen stories. Always is another side. I belive there are competent people that can look all facts and judge accordingly. Just imagine that those civilians was "human shield" for insurgents and dicision was supposed to be made in a part of the seconds. One last thing.... If you Cornelius were next to me from my platoon...I'll pull the triger and protect you. War doesn't have a human face....

      Mark - 2012-03-18 09:05

      what qualifies you to make a statement like that..have you ever been in a war??? It is in total ignorance you do so..

      Winsome - 2012-03-18 10:33

      Nice for you to sit behind a screen and mouth off about something you obviously know so little about! How many times has this man been in the operational zone and just how much has he seen to tip him over the edge like this? Before you become his judge - watch a few movies - like the Hurt Locker - maybe you will then get an insight to what these men and women go through on a DAILY basis. It must be hard to stay sane.

  • edwinwwocke - 2012-03-18 07:49

    Now the coverup starts. USA are masters at hiding the truth. Prefect example George Bush &Co.

      Winsome - 2012-03-18 10:36

      @Edwin - if the "cover up" protects this man who has so obviously snapped in a war zone - then so be it - he needs it.

      bluzulu - 2012-03-18 11:02

      @ Winsome , he needs jailtime in Afghanistan not R&R (Thats rest and relaxation Win)

  • Paul - 2012-03-18 08:04

    Bales is a product of the imperialist war machine whose sole purpose is to annex countries for capitalistic greed under the banner of 'war on terror'. He represents the majority and their christian ideology preached by the their prophet's Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.

      Shaun Robinson - 2012-03-18 08:24

      @Paul - Fully agree Paul but just remember talking about a car does not make me a mechanic... True Christianity would not promote war...

      Mark - 2012-03-18 09:07

      I suppose it is much better here ???

  • Shaun Robinson - 2012-03-18 08:22

    Another bi - product of the entity America thrives on so much, war... Sad stuff, feel sorry for his kids...

  • Wessel - 2012-03-18 09:46

    @corneliusjansen2....are you an air hostess....sorry steward?!!!!

  • Anneck - 2012-03-18 12:19

    The punishment will have to fit the crime.

      Fred - 2012-03-23 20:21

      The formula for all growth is recognize, acknowledge, feel sorry, forgive, and choose to change. It is not recognize, acknowledge, feel sorry, punish, and choose to change.

  • Clement - 2012-03-19 09:49

    A probem of bieng deployed again its a drive to this incident. Training as a recruiter was his solution to not be deploy but it seems like it did work out the way. Finally, he thought to find another way that eneded up bieng a problematic one.

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