The Kandahar massacre
Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: The worst American war crime in recent memory - "There's not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did."
Number of victims: 16
Date of murders: March 11, 2012
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: June 30, 1973
Victims profile: Nine children, four men, and three women (Afghan civilians)
Method of murder: Shooting - Stabbing with knife
Location: Panjwai, Kandahar, Afghanistan
Status: Found guilty in a plea deal on June 5, 2013. Sentenced to life in prison without parole on August 23, 2013
Robert Bales (born June 30, 1973) is a United States Army soldier who murdered sixteen Afghan civilians in Panjwai, Kandahar, Afghanistan on March 11, 2012. The incident has since been widely referred to in media reports as the Kandahar massacre.
On March 23, 2012 Bales was formally charged with seventeen counts of murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder. He is currently being held in detention at Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
On May 29, 2013 it was reported that Bales will plead guilty in return for a life sentence, avoiding the death penalty. Bales was found guilty in a plea deal on June 5, 2013. A hearing is set for August to determine whether Bales will be eligible for parole after 10 years.
Early life and education
Bales was born and raised in Norwood, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb, as the youngest of five boys. He attended Norwood High School, where he was described as a "gregarious" captain of the football team and was active in numerous clubs and activities, including theater. He was supplanted in his linebacker position by future NFL player Marc Edwards, whom he mentored.
After high school Bales briefly enrolled at the College of Mount St. Joseph, then transferred to Ohio State University, where he studied economics for three years, but left without graduating in 1996.
After leaving college Bales worked as a registered broker at five financial services firms in Columbus, Ohio. The firms were interrelated, sharing employees and corporate offices. They were reputedly boiler room operations that practiced pump and dump techniques in the penny stock market. He then moved to Florida, where he co-founded a financial company named Spartina Investments. Soon after, an arbitrator found Bales liable for financial fraud related to the handling of a retirement account and ordered him to pay $1.4 million in civil damages. Gary Liebschner, the victim, said he "never got paid a penny" of the award.
According to Leibschner's lawyer, they had not pursued legal action against Bales to collect the judgement because they were unable to locate Bales, who had joined the U.S. Army eighteen months after the long-running arbitration case was filed. In 2001, shortly after the fraud, Spartina Investments went out of business. Bales enlisted in the U.S. Army that November.
Bales was initially assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2d Infantry Division in Fort Lewis. He completed three tours in the Iraq War: twelve months in 2003 and 2004, fifteen months in 2006 and 2007, and ten months in 2009 and 2010. In the 2007 tour he reportedly injured his foot in the Battle of Najaf, and in the 2010 tour he was treated for traumatic brain injury after his vehicle was rolled in an accident.
Public records show Bales had minor run-ins with police while stationed at Fort Lewis. In 2002 he got into a fight with a security guard at a Tacoma area casino and was charged with misdemeanor criminal assault, but the charge was dismissed after he paid a small fine and attended anger management classes. Another confrontation outside of a bar in 2008 was also reported to police, but no charges were filed.
On February 1, 2012, Bales was assigned to Camp Belambay in Kandahar Province, where he was responsible for providing base security for U.S. Army Special Forces and U.S. Navy SEALs who were engaged in village stability operations.
On the night of March 11, 2012, sixteen Afghan civilians were shot and killed in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai near Camp Belamby. On March 24, U.S. Army investigators alleged that Bales was the only person responsible for the shootings, and that he split the killings into two attacks, returning to Camp Belamby after the first attack before leaving again an hour later.
A senior military official said Bales had been drinking alcohol with two other soldiers on the night of the shootings, in violation of military rules in combat zones. According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Bales acknowledged the killings and "told individuals what happened" immediately after being captured. Minutes later he refused to speak with investigators and asked for an attorney.
Bales' civilian attorney John Henry Browne, who also represented serial killer Ted Bundy, later said, "I don't know that the government is going to prove much. There's no forensic evidence. There's no confession." However, in May 2013, Browne reversed course, saying his client would confess to the massacre in return for avoiding the death penalty. In total, the massacre included nine children, some as young as two years old, and four women.
Bales was quickly transferred out of Afghanistan, stopping in Kuwait. The sudden transfer to Kuwait prompted a diplomatic uproar, as the Kuwaiti government heard about the Bales case from news reports before hearing from the U.S. government. "When they learned about it, the Kuwaitis blew a gasket and wanted him out of there", an unnamed official said.
On March 16, 2012, Bales was flown from Kuwait to the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a state-of-the-art, medium/minimum custody facility. According to U.S. Army Colonel James Hutton, Chief of Media Relations, Bales was being held in special housing in his own cell and was able to go outside the cell "for hygiene and recreational purposes." In October 2012 he was transferred to Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
On March 23, 2012, the U.S. government charged Bales with seventeen counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder, and six counts of assault. On June 1, the government dropped one of the murder charges, because one victim had been double counted. Simultaneously, other charges were filed including abuse of steroids, alcohol consumption, and attempting to destroy evidence. Assault charges were increased from six to seven.
Civilian attorney John Henry Browne defended Bales with assigned military lawyers. Browne was retained by the sergeant's family and has described Bales as "mild-mannered", and claims his client was upset after seeing a friend's leg blown off the day before the killings, but held no animosity toward Muslims. "I think the message for the public in general is that he's one of our boys and they need to treat him fairly."
Browne has denied the deadly rampage was caused by alcohol intoxication or marital problems and said Bales was "reluctant to serve." According to Browne, Bales did not want to return to the front lines. Browne said, "He wasn't thrilled about going on another deployment ... he was told he wasn't going back, and then he was told he was going." Browne also criticized anonymous reports from government officials, stating "the government is going to want to blame this on an individual rather than blame it on the war."
Bales had no history of mental disorder, and had undergone an extensive mental health screening to become a sniper in 2008. In 2010, he suffered a concussion in a car accident, underwent traumatic brain injury treatment at Fort Lewis, and was deemed healthy. Investigators examining his medical history described his ten-year Army career as "unremarkable" and found no evidence of serious traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress. A high-ranking U.S. official told The New York Times, "When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues—he just snapped."
As part of the legal proceedings, an Article 32 hearing, was held November 5–13, 2012, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The hearing included eyewitnesses testimony from Afghanistan via a live video link; Bales did not testify. The hearing concluded with prosecutors requesting the death penalty.
On May 29, 2013, it was announced Bales would plead guilty (thereby avoiding the death penalty) and describe the events of March 11, 2012. On June 5, Bales pleaded guilty in a plea deal to 16 counts of murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder. When asked by judge Col. Jeffery Nance "What was your reason for killing them?", he said he had asked himself that question "a million times" and added, "There’s not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did." He maintained he didn't recall setting bodies on fire, but admitted the evidence was clear that he had. He said he'd taken the steroids solely to be "huge and jacked" and blamed them for "definitely" increasing his irritability and anger.
At the sentencing hearing, defense attorneys argued for a sentence of life with the possibility of parole, arguing that he was a troubled man who snapped, not a "cold-blooded murderer". Bales took to the stand to issue an apology to his victims, saying he would bring them back to life if he could. Lt. Col Jay Morse, who is a member of the US Army Trial Counsel Assistance Program, was the lead prosecutor in the Bales case. The prosecution, seeking life without the possibility of parole, closed their arguments with: "In just a few short hours, Sgt. Bales wiped out generations. Sgt. Bales dares to ask you for mercy when he has shown none."
On August 23, a six-person jury sentenced Bales to life in prison without parole. He was also demoted to the lowest enlisted rank, dishonorably discharged and will forfeit all pay and allowances. A commanding general overseeing the court-martial has the option of reducing the sentence to life with the possibility of parole. Afghan villagers and the families of Bales' victims were upset by the decision, saying he deserved death. Bales is incarcerated at United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.
Bales is married and has two young children. After the shootings the family was moved from its home in Lake Tapps, Washington for their protection.
Regarding the murders for which he was charged, Bales' wife Karilyn told People magazine, "...I know my husband didn't do that. That's not Bob." On CBS This Morning on July 2, 2012, Bales (captioned as Kari) said she had spoken often to her husband in detention, but never asked him about what happened in the Panjwali villages. "We just talk about family matters", she said.
The Bales were struggling financially and had put their home up for sale three days before the shootings. The property was listed for $50,000 less than what they paid for it in 2005, and less than they owed the bank.
According to officials, Bales may have had marital problems since returning from deployment in Iraq in 2010. Bales' wife blogged about her disappointment in her husband being passed over for a promotion to sergeant first class, "after all of the work Bob has done and all the sacrifices he has made for his love of his country, family and friends." She also looked forward to the family's next duty station, listing her top choices as Germany, Italy, Hawaii, Kentucky, or Georgia, calling the possibilities opportunities for adventure.
Awards and decoration
Bales received the following awards
Army Commendation Medal with one silver oak leaf cluster
Army Achievement Medal
Army Good Conduct Medal with three Good Conduct Loops
National Defense Service Medal
Iraq Campaign Medal with two service stars
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Army Service Ribbon
Army Overseas Service Ribbon
Meritorious Unit Commendation with one bronze oak leaf cluster
Army Superior Unit Award
Combat Infantryman Badge
Soldier Sentenced to Life Without Parole for Killing 16 Afghans
By Jack Healy - The New York Times
August 23, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty to slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians inside their homes, will spend the rest of his life in prison, a military jury decided on Friday.
The decision came after three days of wrenching testimony that painted a moment-by-moment, bullet-by-bullet account of one of the worst atrocities of the United States’ long war in Afghanistan.
The six-member military jury considering Sergeant Bales’s fate had two options: sentence him to life in prison with no possibility of parole, or allow him a chance at freedom after about 20 years behind bars. His guilty plea in June removed the death penalty from the table.
In pressing for mercy, the defense team said Sergeant Bales had been a good soldier, a loving father and a stand-up friend before snapping after four combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. But prosecutors said he was a man frustrated with his career and family, easy to anger, whose rage erupted at the end of his M-4 rifle.
“He liked murder,” a prosecutor, Lt. Col. Jay Morse, said in closing arguments on Friday. “He liked the power it gave him.”
In the end, the jury sided with that argument. It deliberated for about 90 minutes before returning to a courtroom packed with soldiers, relatives of Sergeant Bales, and nine Afghan men and boys who had testified earlier in the week about the harm Sergeant Bales had inflicted on them and their families.
As the sentence was read, an interpreter gave a thumbs-up sign to the Afghans. On the other side of the courtroom, Sergeant Bales’s mother wept, holding her face in her hands. Sergeant Bales, 40, showed no reaction. He responded with polite “yes, sirs” to the judge’s questions about his appellate rights, before being led away.
He will be dishonorably discharged.
Outside the court, the Afghan villagers told reporters that the sentence did little to ease their anger and loss. Many wanted Sergeant Bales to be executed, and said his crimes represented the barest fraction of the pain and death that Afghans have endured over the last decade.
The men tugged at the maroon pants of a boy named Sadiqullah, revealing a leg scarred and disfigured by bullet wounds.
“We came all the way to the U.S. to get justice,” said Haji Mohammed Wazir, who lost 11 members of his family in the massacre. “We didn’t get that.”
The killings took place in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar Province, in two villages that were little more than an assortment of mud-walled homes, with no electricity or running water, where residents cultivated wheat and other grains. On March 11, 2012, after a night of drinking and watching movies with other soldiers, Sergeant Bales slipped away from his combat outpost and set off toward the villages.
What happened next was brought into vivid detail by the testimony of the nine Afghan men and boys.
Wearing traditional Afghan shalwar kameez and turbans as they faced a wall of crew cuts and crisp blue military dress uniforms, the Afghans spoke in Pashto of this unknown American who burst into their lives like a camouflaged grim reaper. They recalled how he hit and kicked members of their family, gunned down defenseless old men, mothers and children, and set their bodies on fire.
Several American service members also testified to the massacre’s outward ripples, describing how a wounded 7-year-old girl named Zardana had to be taught to walk and use the bathroom again, how Afghans seethed with outrage in the Panjwai district, and how the American military had to suspend operations in the area after the killings.
On Friday, prosecutors described Sergeant Bales as a “methodical killer,” uncaring and unrepentant.
In a closing argument illuminated by graphic videos and photos of the dead and wounded, Colonel Morse said Sergeant Bales had shown no mercy to the Afghan families, and deserved none from his military peers.
“Sergeant Bales not only had no remorse, but knew everything he was doing,” Colonel Morse said. “He decides to take out his aggression on the weak and the defenseless.”
Even as Emma Scanlan, a lawyer for Sergeant Bales, asked jurors to grant him and his family “a sliver of light” with the possibility of parole, she did not provide an explanation for the murders. For months, his defense had suggested that post-traumatic stress or a brain injury had played a part, but it did not present any medical experts during the sentencing hearing. Even Sergeant Bales, speaking to jurors on Thursday, balked when trying to explain his actions.
All anyone could do was guess. In a letter read to jurors on Friday, a former supervisor of Sergeant Bales said that the heavy toll of combat tours, growing stress and personal problems seemed to reach a critical mass that night in Kandahar.
“I believe he was finally overwhelmed by witnessing the deaths and injuries of the soldiers he loved so much,” the officer wrote. “The darkness that had been tugging at him for the last 10 years swallowed him whole.”
Guilty Plea by Sergeant in Killing of Civilians
By Kirk Johnson - The New York Times
June 5, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the enigmatic figure at the center of the worst American war crime in recent memory, admitted for the first time on Wednesday deliberately killing 16 Afghan civilians last year, most of them women and children.
He took the oath in a military court, swore to tell the truth, and conceded in crisp “yes sirs” and “no sirs” every major charge against him — that he shot some victims, and shot and burned others, and did so with complete awareness that he was acting on his own, without compunction or mercy or under orders by a superior Army officer. The guilty plea removes the possibility of the death penalty in the case.
But the curtain of enigma about the man himself, and his descent into darkness and murder on the night of the killings, remained firmly in place. The millions of Americans who have pondered the mechanisms of atrocity since the attacks in March 2012 were left in the dark. Even Sergeant Bales himself, finally pressed by the presiding judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, to explain more deeply what happened, seemed baffled.
“What was your reason for killing them?” Colonel Nance finally asked.
Sergeant Bales, 39, seated at the defense table in his blue service uniform, hands clasped before him — thumbs often nervously twitching — said he had asked himself the same question “a million times.”
“There’s not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did,” he said.
Asked by Colonel Nance whether he had poured kerosene on some of his victims and set them on fire as the charges against him specified, Sergeant Bales said he remembered seeing a kerosene lamp in one of the village compounds, and later found matches in his pocket. But bodies themselves on fire? He did not remember that, he said. Then he conceded that the cumulative evidence was clear that it must have happened, and that he must, in fact, have done it.
“It’s the only thing that makes sense, sir,” Sergeant Bales said.
Asked by the judge about his illegal use of steroids, another charge Sergeant Bales admitted to on Wednesday, the defendant said he had wanted to get stronger, or “huge and jacked,” as he put in an interview quoted by the court. Asked by the judge what other effects the drugs might have had, Sergeant Bales said: “Sir, it definitely increased my irritability and anger.”
Whether those mood shifts played into the crime was unaddressed.
The murders, in two poor villages in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province, had global repercussions. United States-Afghan relations shuddered as villages in the area erupted in protest. Critics of America’s decade of conflict in the region since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, seized on the stresses experienced in the war by soldiers like Sergeant Bales, who was on his fourth overseas deployment in 10 years.
Victims testified in a pretrial, or Article 32, hearing at the base last fall that a figure, cloaked in darkness with blindingly bright lights on his weapon, burst into their homes early on the morning of March 11, 2012. In gripping testimony via live video feed from Afghanistan, they described a man they could not identify who killed people in their beds, leaving brains on pillows.
Fellow soldiers told the court in the Article 32 hearing that they had been drinking together earlier that night, against regulations, and that Sergeant Bales had later walked back into the camp, wearing a cape, his clothes spotted with blood.
But until Wednesday, when Sergeant Bales used phrases like, “then I did kill her by shooting her,” over and over in numbing repetition, the figure at the center of the case was described only obliquely and in shadow, from those who saw him or suffered at his hands. And even then, in the parade of mostly monotone guilty admissions, anyone waiting for tears of regret or remorse was disappointed.
Even though Wednesday’s hearing removed the death penalty from consideration in the case, Sergeant Bales still faces a sentencing trial, scheduled for August, to determine whether he will receive life in prison with the possibility of parole, or life without parole.
At that time, Sergeant Bales and his lawyers could present evidence of extenuating or mitigating circumstances, and Sergeant Bales would have an opportunity to testify, the judge said. That phase of the case is also likely to bring up questions of the defendant’s life, character and mental states, and the stresses of the wars he helped fight.
During his deployments, for example, Sergeant Bales suffered foot and head injuries and saw fellow soldiers badly wounded, defense lawyers and military officials have said. His lawyers have also said he had suffered from post-traumatic stress and a traumatic brain injury.
But his past includes an arrest on a misdemeanor charge of assault on a woman, which was dropped after he completed anger management counseling. Testimony about his drug and alcohol use in a combat zone could play out further there as well, which could open up questions about his mental state at the time of the murders, but also about the environment and culture in the military where that drug use took place.
Bales on Afghan village massacre: 'Sir, I intended to kill them'
By Matt Pearce - Los Angeles Times
June 5, 2013
The U.S. Army staff sergeant accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians in two villages pleaded guilty Wednesday in a move expected to spare him from the death penalty.
And when a military judge asked Robert Bales, 39, why he slaughtered the men, women and children outside Camp Belambay in southern Afghanistan on March 11, 2012, Bales gave his first and only public explanation for the attack.
"Sir, as far as why: I've asked that question a million times since then," said Bales, according to the Associated Press. "There's not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did."
Bales appeared in military uniform at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Seattle, where his military tribunal is being held.
Part of his plea deal with prosecutors involved a requirement that he give an account of the killings and of burning the villagers' bodies before returning to base with bloodstained clothing.
His initial recollection of the slaughter, which was recalled to the court and to the Los Angeles Times in vivid detail by the survivors, poured out in cold legalese.
"I left the VSP [Village Stability Platform at Belambay] and went to the nearby village of Alkozai," Bales told the judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, according to the AP. "While inside a compound in Alkozai, I observed a female I now know to be Na'ikmarga. I formed the intent to kill Na'ikmarga, and I did kill Na'ikmarga by shooting her with a firearm. This act was without legal justification, sir."
According to KOMO-TV, Nance asked Bales, "Did you go there expecting to find them there?"
"Sir, I expected someone to be there," Bales said, adding, "Sir, I intended to kill them."
Nance pressed Bales on his motives when Bales did not initially offer them, and tried to pin down the staff sergeant on whether he burned the bodies. Bales said he remembered seeing a kerosene lantern and having matches in his pocket but didn't remember setting the fire himself.
The judge pressed Bales on whether he set the bodies on fire with the lantern, according to the AP, to which Bales replied, "It's the only thing that makes sense, sir."
Six more residents were wounded in the attack, which Bales' attorneys had previously argued was fueled by steroids, alcohol and Bales' post-traumatic stress disorder.
The deal to avoid the death penalty may disappoint some of the victims' family members, who previously told the Los Angeles Times that Bales should be executed. (U.S. military prosecutors initially sought the death penalty.)
"Hang him. That's what I want. Hang him from the neck; let him dangle," Mohammed Wazir said in a 2012 interview. "Let him sit in front of us. Let him look in our eyes. And we will look in his eyes."
Wazir had returned from out of town with his youngest son to find his mother, wife, six other children, brother, sister-in-law and nephew dead.
"If your child dies, what would you expect? Money? No," said Wazir, who denied taking the compensation that the U.S. government offered to the victims of the massacre. "Will you expect prison? We don't want prison.... If the court doesn't go the way we want, we will not accept the decision of the court."
According to the Seattle Times, the tribunal's judge, Nance, was reviewing Bales' plea Wednesday morning to make sure Bales understood the consequences of the plea.
The session broke for a recess and was expected to resume in the afternoon.
Soldier to admit Afghan massacre
May 30, 2013
SEATTLE (AP) — The Army staff sergeant charged with slaughtering 16 villagers in one of the worst atrocities of the Afghanistan war will plead guilty to avoid the death penalty in a deal that requires him to recount the horrific attack for the first time, his attorney told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was "crazed" and "broken" when he slipped away from his remote southern Afghanistan outpost and attacked mud-walled compounds in two slumbering villages nearby, lawyer John Henry Browne said.
But his client's mental state didn't rise to the level of a legal insanity defense, Browne said, and Bales will plead guilty next week.
The outcome of the case carries high stakes. The Army had been trying to have Bales executed, and Afghan villagers have demanded it. In interviews with the AP in Kandahar last month, relatives of the victims became outraged at the notion Bales might escape the death penalty.
"For this one thing, we would kill 100 American soldiers," vowed Mohammed Wazir, who had 11 family members killed that night, including his mother and 2-year-old daughter.
"A prison sentence doesn't mean anything," said Said Jan, whose wife and three other relatives died. "I know we have no power now. But I will become stronger, and if he does not hang, I will have my revenge."
Any plea deal must be approved by the judge as well as the commanding general at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where Bales is being held. A plea hearing is set for June 5, said Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, an Army spokesman. He said he could not immediately provide other details.
"The judge will be asking questions of Sgt. Bales about what he did, what he remembers and his state of mind," said Browne, who told the AP the commanding general has already approved the deal. "The deal that has been worked out ... is they take the death penalty off the table, and he pleads as charged, pretty much."
A sentencing-phase trial set for September will determine whether Bales is sentenced to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.
Browne previously indicated Bales remembered little from the night of the massacre, and he said that was true in the early days after the attack. But as further details and records emerged, Bales began to remember what he did, the lawyer said, and he will admit to "very specific facts" about the shootings.
Browne would not elaborate on what his client will tell the judge.
Bales, an Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., had been drinking contraband alcohol, snorting Valium that was provided to him by another soldier, and had been taking steroids before the attack. He slipped away from his remote southern Afghanistan outpost at Camp Belambay early on March 11, 2012, and attacked compounds.
Testimony at a hearing last fall established that Bales returned to his base between attacking the villages, woke up a fellow soldier and confessed. The soldier didn't believe him and went back to sleep, and Bales left again to continue the slaughter.
Most of the victims were women and children, and some of the bodies were piled and burned. The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan. It was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.
Browne said his client, who was on his fourth combat deployment, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury. He continued to blame the Army for sending him back to war in the first place.
"He's broken, and we broke him," Browne said.
The massacre raised questions about the toll multiple deployments were taking on American troops. For that reason, many legal experts believed it that it was unlikely that he would receive the death penalty, as Army prosecutors were seeking. The military justice system hasn't executed anyone since 1961.
The defense team, including military lawyers assigned to Bales as well as Browne's co-counsel, Emma Scanlan, eventually determined after having Bales examined by psychiatrists that he would not be able to prove any claim of insanity or diminished capacity at the time of the attack, Browne said.
"His mental state does not rise to the level of a legal insanity defense," Browne said. "But his state of mind will be very important at the trial in September. We'll talk about his mental capacities or lack thereof, and other factors that were important to his state of mind."
Browne acknowledged the plea deal could inflame tensions in Afghanistan and said he was disappointed the case has not done more to focus public opinion on the war.
"It's a very delicate situation. I am concerned there could be a backlash," he said. "My personal goal is to save Bob from the death penalty. Getting the public to pay more attention to the war is secondary to what I have to do."
Sgt Robert Bales: The story of the soldier accused of murdering 16 Afghan villagers
As the American soldier accused of the murder of 16 Afghan villagers arrives at a US military base in Kansas, Philip Sherwell looks at the man who has plunged US-Afghan relations to a new low.
By Philip Sherwell - Telegraph.co.uk
March 17, 2012
Robert Bales turned his back on civilian life as a financial adviser in Ohio and signed up for the military after the Sept 2001 terror attacks on the US.
He was a popular combat veteran, twice injured in Iraq, described by a former platoon leader as "one of the best soldiers I ever worked with" and who prided himself on identifying "the bad guys from non-combatants".
Now, though, he has been identified as the US soldier accused of last Sunday's massacre of 16 Afghan villagers, nine of them children, in a predawn shooting and stabbing rampage.
The atrocity has plunged US-Afghan relations to a new low, prompting "Death to America" protests in Afghanistan, and fresh calls for the timetable for the 2014 withdrawal of American and British forces to be accelerated.
As a commander and trained sniper in a front line US infantry unit, Sgt Bales was no stranger to combat and the stress it can produce in those who wage it. He had witnessed the bloodiest of the fighting in Iraq in the years after the 2003 invasion, earning the praise of his superiors, and was decorated a dozen times during three tours of duty there.
Then in 2010, towards the end of his third deployment, he suffered a minor traumatic brain injury after the vehicle in which he was travelling rolled over. And last year to his disappointment he was passed over for promotion, adding to money worries back home.
But for Sgt Bales, 38, and his wife Karilyn, there seemed at least one reason for optimism on the horizon. They understood he had served his final tour in a war zone, and that they and their two young children would soon move to a non-combat posting.
Instead, he was sent back to the front last December, this time to Afghanistan. The consequences were more dreadful than could have been imagined.
What emerged this weekend is a morality story for a nation whose army has been at war for a decade, and at the centre of it is a soldier who, despite an impressive military record, also had a recent history of trauma, grievances and financial pressures.
For court records show another side to the character of a man who was described by stunned neighbours as a loving father and husband and "life of the party". In 2002, he underwent an anger management assessment after he was charged with assault. And in 2008, witnesses said that he smelled of alcohol after he crashed his car and ran off into nearby woods.
At home in Washington state, his wife was struggling with the finances as she raised Quincy, four, and Bobby, three. Only this month, they put their home up for sale as they had fallen behind with their mortgage payments.
Sgt Bales, 38, a member of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, was flown back on Friday evening to the military's highest-security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where investigators will pore over his military evaluations, mental and physical health records and computer logs as they draw up charges against him.
An unnamed official briefed US media that Sgt Bales buckled under a combination of work stress, marital strains and alcohol, saying that he had been drinking in violation of military rules.
But the shocking incident raises alarming questions about his emotional and mental stability, and whether he had slipped through the net of care at one of America's biggest bases and the pressures of repeat deployments to combat zones.
John Browne, his lawyer, dismissed reports of domestic problems as "hogwash" but said Sgt Bales had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his deployments and had his head injury in Iraq.
He also had seen one of his fellow soldiers lose his leg in an explosion hours before he allegedly committed the massacre.
Sgt Bales and his wife lived at Lake Tapps in Washington state, about a 20-minute drive east of his base at Lewis-McChord near Tacoma in the Pacific North West.
Home there was a modest two-story beige wood-frame house with a small front porch beneath tall fir and cedar evergreens in a neighbourhood popular with military families.
But three days before the shooting in Afghanistan, Mrs Bales contacted Philip Rodocker, an estate agent, to say that she wanted to sell their house. The property was listed for $229,000, about a $50,000 loss on what the family paid for it in 2005 and less than they owed the bank."She told me she was behind in payments," Mr. Rodocker said. "She said he was on his fourth tour and (the house) was getting kind of old and they needed to stabilise their finances."
The house "looked like it had been really, really neglected," he added.
Mrs Bales and her children were moved into accommodation on the army base last week, to protect her from the inevitable media scrutiny as well as the danger of revenge attacks. Boxes, toys, a sledge and a barbecue grill were piled on the front porch this weekend, collected by Mrs Bales as she prepared for the move.
"We are completely in shock," said Kassie Holland, 27, a next-door neighbour. "They seemed very happy, he was the life of the party and great with the kids. I can't see how this can have happened."
His commanders also evidently had no doubts about his capabilities. Staff sergeants are the backbone of a fighting unit, providing support to their officers and bolstering morale of the troops. And to qualify as a sniper – a position that all but guarantees a close acquaintanceship with killing – he also underwent and passed routine psychological screening assessments.
Sgt Bales offered his own insights on the war in Iraq after he fought in a battle in the city of Najaf in 2007 in which 250 enemy fighters died, in clashes described by some participants as "apocalyptic."
"I've never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day," he said afterwards in a testimony collected for a military training college. "We discriminated between the bad guys and the non-combatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us.
"I think that's the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm's way like that."
Speaking of the intensity of the battle, he added that "the cool part about this was World War II-style. You dug in. Guys were out there digging a fighting position in the ground."
That vivid account is evidently one that the US military would prefer the public no longer to read. The link to the website that carried it was removed last week, but the article was still available in other archives.
Comrades have been quick to come to the support of the soldier they had known before Sunday. Capt Chris Alexander, his platoon leader in Iraq, said in an interview on Friday night that the sergeant "saved many a life" by never letting down his guard during patrols.
"Bales is still, hands down, one of the best soldiers I ever worked with," he said. "There has to be very severe [post-traumatic stress disorder] involved in this. I just don't want him seen as some psychopath, because he is not."
But public records show two brushes with the law after he moved to Washington. He was ordered by a judge in 2002 to undergo anger-management counselling for an alleged assault on a girlfriend in a hotel. And in 2008, he was arrested after he drove his car off a road and into a tree, then fled the scene. Witnesses told police that he was bleeding, disoriented and smelled of alcohol, but he was not charged with drunk driving.
He was deployed three times to Iraq: between 2003 and 2004 as anti-US resistance erupted; for 15 months between June 2006 and September 2007, at the height of the brutal civil war and the beginning of what became known as the surge; and for a year from August 2009. As well as the head injury in that final tour, his lawyer said that he had also lost part of his foot in a separate incident.
The massacre has focused attention on the care and vetting given to soldiers who have gone through multiple tours and, in Sgt Bales' case, suffered a brain injury on deployment.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord has come under scrutiny because of a string of problems. Most notably, rogue soldiers from another Stryker brigade formed a "kill unit" and murdered three Afghan civilians in 2010, and the Army recently opened an investigation into complaints that diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder were being changed or dismissed by the base's medical centre.
Some veteran groups have argued that the base, which is home to 40,000 soldiers, is unable to handle the pressures of repeated deployments. In 2010, Sgt Bales was among 18,000 personnel who returned there from war zones over just a few weeks. Commanders however insisted on Friday that facilities at Lewis-McChord were not overwhelmed.
Why Sgt Bales snapped in the early hours of last Sunday remain unclear for now; officials say he appears to have only vague recollections of the incident.
But as he stands suspected of perhaps the worst single atrocity committed by a US serviceman in the last decade of foreign wars, a recent US military press release about a simulated Afghan "hearts and minds" operations in California's Mojave desert has a chilling poignancy.
"How's the security affecting your family?" Sgt Bales asked a "village elder" relaxing outside his home. "Much better than yesterday," the man replies the man.
The release goes on to state that Sgt Bales' company had successfully secured the village to rebuild relations with local population. In the words of his commander, "it represents the finest of everything the Army presents."
Nobody, it seems, envisaged that Sgt Bales might ever come to represent anything else.
The Kandahar massacre, more precisely identified as the Panjwai massacre, occurred in the early hours of 11 March 2012, when sixteen civilians were killed and six others wounded in the Panjwayi District of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Nine of the victims were children, and eleven of the dead were from the same family. Some of the corpses were partially burned. United States Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was taken into custody later that morning when he told authorities "I did it".
American and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) authorities apologized for the deaths. Afghan authorities condemned the act, describing it as "intentional murder". The National Assembly of Afghanistan passed a resolution demanding a public trial in Afghanistan, but former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the soldier would be tried under U.S. military law. Bales pleaded guilty on 5 June 2013 to 16 counts of premeditated murder in exchange for the prosecution not seeking the death penalty. At the time of the plea, he stated that he did not know why he committed the murders.
United States authorities concluded that the killings were the act of a single individual. On 15 March 2012, an Afghan parliamentary probe team made up of several members of the National Assembly of Afghanistan had speculated that up to 20 American soldiers were involved in the killings. The team later said they could not confirm claims that multiple soldiers took part in the killings.
The Surge in the southern Afghanistan
Panjwai is the birthplace of the Taliban movement and has traditionally been a stronghold of theirs. It has been an area of heavy fighting and was the focus of a military surge in 2010, which brought a more than two-fold increase in airstrikes, night raids into Afghan homes, insurgent casualties, and a six-fold increase in special forces operations throughout Afghanistan. Fighting in Panjwai and adjacent Zhari, Arghandab and Kandahar districts was particularly intense. Conflict between the civilian population and U.S. forces was exacerbated by the wholesale destruction of some villages by American forces, mass arrests, murder of civilians by rogue units, and high casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
One of the families targeted in the Kandahar shootings had returned to the area in 2011 after previous being displaced by the surge. Fearing the Taliban but encouraged by the U.S. government, the Army, and the Afghan government, they settled near the American military base because they thought it would to be a safe place to live.
Approximately three weeks before the incidents, U.S.–Afghan relations were strained by an incident where copies of the Quran were burnt at the Bagram Air Base. A couple months before the shootings, U.S. Marines were videotaped urinating on dead Taliban fighters.
Allegation of issues at Fort Lewis
The alleged shooter, Robert Bales, was based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). The primary medical treatment facility at the base, Madigan Army Medical Center, has come under investigation for downgrading diagnoses of soldiers with PTSD to lesser ailments. Military support groups around the base have alleged that base commanders did not give returning troops sufficient time to recover before sending them on further deployments, and that the base's medical staff is understaffed and overwhelmed by the numbers of returning veterans with deployment-related medical and psychological trauma.
Soldiers from the base have been linked to other atrocities and crimes. The 2010 Maywand District murders involved JBLM-based soldiers. Also in 2010, a recently discharged AWOL soldier from JBLM shot a police officer in Salt Lake City. In April 2011, a JBLM soldier killed his wife and 5-year-old son before killing himself. In January 2012, a JBLM soldier murdered a Mount Rainier National Park ranger. In two separate incidents, unrelated JBLM soldiers have been charged with waterboarding their children.
Jorge Gonzalez, executive director of a veterans resource center near Fort Lewis, said that the Kandahar killings offer more proof that the base is dysfunctional: "This was not a rogue soldier. JBLM is a rogue base, with a severe leadership problem", he said in a statement. Base officials responded, saying that the crimes committed by its soldiers were isolated events which do not "reflect on the work and dedication of all service members." Robert H. Scales opined that conditions at JBLM were not necessarily an underlying factor in the shootings, instead suggesting that it was the ten years of constant warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, and the repeated deployments required of the U.S.'s over-tasked military.
8 March roadside bombing
Residents of Mokhoyan, a village about 500 metres east of Camp Belamby, stated that a bomb had exploded in their vicinity on 8 March, destroying an armored vehicle and wounding several U.S. soldiers. They recounted that U.S. soldiers afterwards lined many of the male villagers against a wall, threatening to "get revenge for this incident by killing at least 20 of your people," and threatening that "you and your children will pay for this". One Mokhoyan resident told The Associated Press "It looked like they were going to shoot us, and I was very afraid." He continued, "Then a NATO soldier said through his translator that even our children will pay for this." American officials from The Pentagon declared that they had "no evidence" that villagers had been lined up against a wall and threatened in Mokhoyan. U.S. officials refused to confirm or deny that American soldiers were wounded outside the village on 8 March.
Bales' lawyer, John Henry Browne, later stated that his client was upset because a fellow soldier had lost a leg in an explosion on 9 March. It is unclear whether the bombing cited by Browne was the same as the one described by the villagers.
According to official reports, a heavily armed male American soldier left combat outpost Camp Belamby at 3:00 a.m. local time wearing night vision goggles. The soldier was wearing traditional Afghan clothing over his ISAF fatigues.
According to government officials with knowledge of the investigation, the killings were carried out in 2 phases, with the killer returning to base in between. An Afghan guard reported a soldier returning to base at 1:30 am, and another guard reported a soldier leaving at 2:30 am. The killer is believed to have first gone to Alkozai, about 1/2 mile north of Camp Belambay, then to Najiban (called Balandi in earlier reports), located 1 1/2 miles south of the base. Four people were killed and six wounded in Alkozai, and 12 people were killed in Najiban. American sentries at the base heard gunshots in Alkozai, but did not take action besides attempting to view Alkozai from their post inside the base. Until 22 March, U.S. authorities recognized sixteen people killed, including nine children, four men, and three women. On 22 March that number was revised to 17, but later reduced back to 16. It was initially reported that five others were injured, and that number was eventually increased to six.
Four members of the same family were killed in Alkozai. According to a 16-year-old boy who was shot in the leg, the soldier woke up his family members before shooting them. Another witness said she saw the man drag a woman out of her house and repeatedly hit her head against a wall.
The first victim in Najiban appears to have been Mohammad Dawood. According to Dawood's brother, the assailant shot Dawood in the head, but spared Dawood's wife and six children after the wife screamed at him.
Eleven members of Abdul Samad's family were killed in a house in Najiban village, including his wife, four girls between the ages of 2 and 6, four boys between 8 and 12, and two other relatives. According to a witness, "he dragged the boys by their hair and shot them in the mouth". At least three of the child victims were killed by a single shot to the head of each. Their bodies were then set on fire. Then another civilian, Mohammad Dawoud, age 55, was killed in another house in this village. Witnesses reported that the perpetrator was wearing a headlamp and/or a spotlight attached to his weapon.
The perpetrator burned some of the victims' bodies, an act that would be considered desecration under Islamic law. Witnesses said that the eleven corpses from one family were shot in the head, stabbed, and then gathered into one room and set on fire. A pile of ashes was found on the floor of one victims' house; at least one child's body was found partially charred. A reporter for The New York Times inspected the bodies that had been taken to the nearby American military base and confirmed seeing burns on some of the children's legs and heads.
Mohamed Dawood (son of Abdullah)
Khudaydad (son of Mohamed Juma)
Shatarina (daughter of Sultan Mohamed)
Zahra (daughter of Abdul Hamid)
Nazia (daughter of Dost Mohamed)
Masooma (daughter of Mohamed Wazir)
Farida (daughter of Mohamed Wazir)
Palwasha (daughter of Mohamed Wazir)
Nabia (daughter of Mohamed Wazir)
Esmatullah, age 16 (son of Mohamed Wazir)
Faizullah, age 9 (son of Mohamed Wazir)
Essa Mohamed (son of Mohamed Hussain)
Akhtar Mohamed (son of Murrad Ali)
Surrender and confession
Following the events at Alkozai and Balandi, a U.S. soldier handed himself over into ISAF custody. Afghan forces spotted him leaving his outpost before the killings and U.S. commanders on base assembled their troops for a head count when it was discovered that the soldier was missing. A patrol was dispatched to find the missing soldier, but did not find him before he returned to base after the killings. He was reportedly taken into custody without incident. There were no military operations being conducted in the area at the time of the shootings.
The surveillance video from the base reportedly shows "the soldier walking up to his base covered in a traditional Afghan shawl. The soldier removes the shawl and lays his weapon on the ground, then raises his arms in surrender." The video has not been released to the public.
American investigators suspect that the shooter may have departed the base before midnight, committed the murders in Balandi, then returned to the base around 1:30 a.m. The shooter may have then departed the base at 2:30 a.m. and committed the murders in Alkozai. It was apparently the second departure which caused the alert and the commencement of the patrol to locate the missing soldier.
According to U.S. defense officials, upon his return to the base the soldier said three words: "I did it" and then told individuals what happened. Later the shooter retained a lawyer and refused to speak further with investigators. The United States flew the alleged shooter out of Afghanistan to Kuwait on 14 March 2012, then to the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas on 16 March. A Pentagon spokesman said the move was done because of a "legal recommendation".
The number of assailants
According to U.S. authorities, the attack was conducted by a single soldier – Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. The U.S. military showed Afghan authorities the footage from the surveillance video at the base as proof that there was only one perpetrator of the shootings.
According to Reuters, some neighbors and relatives of the dead saw a group of U.S. soldiers arrive at their village at about 2 a.m., enter homes and open fire. "They were all drunk and shooting all over the place," said neighbor Agha Lala.
According to The New York Times, one of the attack's survivors and "at least five other villagers" described seeing a number of soldiers, while some other Afghan residents described seeing only one gunman.
One mother-of-six, whose husband was killed during the incident, reported involvement of a large number of people: "When they shot dead my husband, I tried to drag him into the house... I saw more than 20 people when I looked out the house. The Americans pointed their guns at me and threatened me, telling me not to leave the house or they'd kill me."
An eight-year-old girl named Noorbinak, whose father was killed reported that "one man entered the room and the others were standing in the yard, holding lights." The brother of another victim claimed his nephews and nieces had seen "numerous soldiers" with headlamps and lighted guns. Some elected officials said that they believed the attack was planned, claiming that one soldier could not have carried out such an act without help. In response, Afghan President Hamid Karzai appointed General Sher Mohammad Karimi to investigate the claims.
On 15 March 2012, an Afghan parliamentary probe team made up of several members of the National Assembly of Afghanistan announced that up to 20 American soldiers were involved in the killings, with support from two helicopters. They had spent two days in the province on site, interviewing the survivors and collecting evidence. One of the members of the probe team, Hamizai Lali, said: "We closely examined the site of the incident, talked to the families who lost their beloved ones, the injured people and tribal elders... The villages are one and a half kilometre from the American military base. We are convinced that one soldier cannot kill so many people in two villages within one hour... [the victims] have been killed by the two groups." Lali asked the Afghan government, the United Nations and the international community to ensure the perpetrators were punished in Afghanistan. While visiting one of the affected villages, Hamid Karzai pointed to one of the villagers and said: "In his family, in four rooms people were killed – children and women were killed – and then they were all brought together in one room and then set on fire. That, one man cannot do." However, the team later said they could not confirm that multiple soldiers took part in the killings.
Financial payments of victims family
On 25 March 2012 at the office of the governor of Kandahar province, the United States gave a the equivalent of US$860,000 to the victims' families, allocated as $50,000 for each person killed and $10,000 for each person injured. The official who disbursed payments to the families said the money was not compensation, but rather the U.S. government's offering to help the victims and their families. A member of the Kandahar provincial council described the payments as assistance, but not as the kind of legal compensation that would absolve the accused.
The Army alleged that Robert Bales, a 38-year-old United States Army Staff Sergeant stationed at Camp Belambay, was the only person responsible for the shootings. According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, immediately after being captured, Bales acknowledged the killings and "told individuals what happened". However, he quickly asked for an attorney and refused to speak with investigators about his motivations. Later, Bales' civilian attorney, John Henry Browne, stated: "I don't know that the government is going to prove much. There's no forensic evidence. There's no confessions".
Family and military career
Bales grew up in Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. After high school, he studied at Ohio State University but did not graduate. After leaving college in 1996, Bales worked for a number of financial services firms. In 2003, an arbitrator found Bales liable for financial fraud in the handling of a retirement account and ordered Bales to pay $1.4 million in damages. The victim said he "never got paid a penny" of the award.
Bales enlisted in the Army two months after the September 11 attacks and was assigned to 2d Battalion, 3d Infantry of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2d Infantry Division from Fort Lewis. While working as an infantryman Bales received additional training as a sniper. He completed a total of three tours in the Iraq War, spanning 2003-2004 (12 months), 2006-2007 (15 months), and 2009-2010 (10 months). In the 2007 tour, he reportedly injured his foot and participated in the Battle of Najaf. During the 2010 tour, he was treated for traumatic brain injury after his vehicle rolled over in an accident. During Bales' military service, he had received a number of honours: the Army Commendation Medal with a silver oak leaf cluster, the Army Achievement Medal, and the Army Good Conduct Medal with three Good Conduct Loops.
While stationed at Fort Lewis, Bales had minor run-ins with law enforcement. In 2002, he got in a fight with a security guard at a Tacoma area casino; he was charged with misdemeanor "criminal assault", but charges were dismissed after he paid a small fine and attended anger management classes. A drunken confrontation outside of a bar in 2008 led to a police report, but no charges.
Bales had no history of behavioral problems. He passed the mental health screening required to become a sniper in 2008. In 2010, he suffered a concussion in a car accident. He went through the advanced traumatic brain injury treatment at Fort Lewis and was deemed to be fine. Investigators examining his medical history described his 10-year Army career as "unremarkable" and found no evidence of serious traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress.
According to officials, Bales may have been having marital problems, and the investigation of the shootings is looking into the possibility that an e-mail about marriage problems might have provoked Bales. His wife wrote on her blog about her disappointment after he was passed over for a promotion to Sergeant First Class (E-7). The family was also struggling with finances, and three days before the shootings Bales' wife put their home up for sale, as they had fallen behind with mortgage payments.
Shooting and legal defense
A senior American official said that Bales had been drinking alcohol with two other soldiers on the night of the shootings, which is a violation of military rules in combat zones. This account was later confirmed by the Pentagon. A high-ranking U.S. official told The New York Times: "When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues - he just snapped." There were no reports that he knew any of the victims.
Noted Seattle attorney John Henry Browne, who represented serial killer Ted Bundy among others, will defend Bales alongside military lawyers. Browne, who was retained by the sergeant's family, described Bales as a "mild-mannered" man and told reporters: "I think the message for the public in general is that he's one of our boys and they need to treat him fairly." Browne stressed that his client had been upset by seeing a friend's leg blown off the day before the killings, but held no animosity toward Muslims. The incident was not confirmed by the U.S. Army.
Browne denied that the deadly rampage was caused by alcohol intoxication or marriage problems and said that Bales was "reluctant to serve". Browne criticized anonymous reports from government officials, stating "the government is going to want to blame this on an individual rather than blame it on the war." He said that the sergeant's wife has "a very good job", noting that he was being paid, not working on this case pro bono.
According to Gary Solis, an expert on war crimes and the military justice system, an insanity defense is likely: "It's hard to say whether the case will even go to trial because in war crimes like this it's very possible that there will be ... an insanity defense, that he is unable to recognize the wrongfulness of his act because of a severe mental disease or injury". Under the U.S. military legal code, the death penalty is possible but requires personal presidential sign-off. Six military members are currently on death row, but none has been executed since Private First Class John A. Bennett was hanged in 1961.
On 16 March, Bales was flown from Kuwait to the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, which is described by the Army officials as a state-of-the-art, medium/minimum custody facility. Bales is being held in special housing in his own cell and is able to go outside the cell "for hygiene and recreational purposes", according to Army Col. James Hutton, chief of media relations. The sudden transfer from Kuwait was reportedly caused by a diplomatic uproar with Kuwaiti government, which learned of the sergeant's move to an American base on Kuwaiti territory only from news reports and not from the U.S. government. "When they learned about it, the Kuwaitis blew a gasket and wanted him out of there," an official said.
Prior to the release of Bales' name, the U.S. military erased references of him from military websites. Photographs of him were removed and an article that quoted him extensively regarding a 2007 firefight was removed from his base's newspaper. Cached versions of the information remained accessible on the Internet and were published by news organizations. Officials commented that the removals were intended to protect the privacy of the Bales family.
On 23 March 2012, the U.S. government charged Bales with 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder, and six counts of assault. On 24 March 2012, American investigators said they believe Bales split the killings in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai into two attacks, returning to Camp Belamby after the first attack before slipping out again an hour later. No other U.S. military persons have been disciplined for having any role in the incident.
On 1 June 2012, the U.S. Army dropped one of the murder charges, saying one of the victims had been counted twice. The reduction was made after "extensive interviews of family members" to confirm the number killed, said Lieutenant Colonel Gary Dangerfield. However, additional charges were filed against Bales on the same date. The charges included abuse of steroids, alcohol consumption, burning corpses, attempting to destroy evidence, and assaulting an Afghan man the month before the massacre. The number of assault charges was also raised from six to seven; the seventh charge being for an unrelated incident in February 2012. The first phase of trial, an Article 32 hearing, was scheduled to begin November 5, 2012 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Several of the Afghan witnesses were expected to testify via video teleconference. Bales was represented by John Henry Browne.
The preliminary hearing, which began on 5 November 2012 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the Washington state base south of Seattle, included nighttime sessions on 9, 10 and 11 November 2012 for the convenience of eyewitnesses and victims who testified through a video link from Afghanistan. Bales did not testify. Closing arguments from US Army prosecutors and Bales' attorney were made on 13 November 2012. After making their closing arguments US Army prosecutors asked an investigative officer to recommend a death penalty court-martial for Bales. It was subsequently decided that the government would pursue the death penalty.
On May 29, 2013, it was reported that Bales would agree to plead guilty and recount the events of the massacre in exchange for avoiding the death penalty, which military prosecutors had said they would seek.
On 5 June, Bales plead guilty to 16 counts of premeditated murder. When asked "What was your reason for killing them?" he said he had asked himself that question "a million times" and added "There’s not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did". He said he did not remember setting bodies on fire, but said he must have done so given the evidence. Bales also plead guilty to use of illegal steroids to get "huge and jacked". He said the drug made him angry and prone to mood swings, but did not specify if they played a role in the murders. A sentencing trial was set for August to determine whether Bales would received a life sentence with the possibility of parole, or one without the possibility.
Reaction from family members and Afghan society
A woman who lost four family members in the incident said, "We don't know why this foreign soldier came and killed our innocent family members. Either he was drunk or he enjoyed killing civilians." Abdul Samad, a 60-year old farmer who lost 11 family members, eight of whom were children, spoke about the incident: "I don't know why they killed them. Our government told us to come back to the village, and then they let the Americans kill us." One grieving mother, holding a dead baby in her arms, said, "They killed a child, was this child the Taliban? Believe me, I haven't seen a 2-year-old member of the Taliban yet."
"I don't want any compensation. I don't want money, I don't want a trip to Mecca, I don't want a house. I want nothing. But what I absolutely want is the punishment of the Americans. This is my demand, my demand, my demand and my demand," said one villager, whose brother was killed.
More than 300 Panjwai locals gathered around the military base to protest the killings. Some brought burned blankets to represent those killed. In one house, an elderly woman screamed: "May God kill the only son of Karzai, so he feels what we feel." On 13 March, hundreds of university students protested in Afghanistan's eastern city of Jalalabad, shouting "Death to America – Death to Obama" and burning effigies of the U.S. president and a Christian cross. On 15 March about 2,000 people took part in another protest, in the southern province of Zabul.
Reaction from Afghan authorities
The President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, called the incident "intentional murder" and stated "this [was] an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven." He said the United States must now pull back its troops from village areas and allow Afghan security forces to take the lead in an effort to reduce civilian deaths.
On 16 March Afghan President said the U.S. was not fully co-operating with a probe into the killings. He also said the problem of civilian casualties at the hands of NATO forces "has been going on for too long ... It is by all means the end of the rope here". A spokesperson for the Afghan Interior Ministry condemned the act "in the strongest possible terms."
Afghan politicians wanted Bales to face an Afghan court. The National Assembly of Afghanistan insisted that the U.S. soldier be put on public trial in Afghanistan: "We seriously demand and expect that the government of the United States punish the culprits and try them in a public trial before the people of Afghanistan." It also condemned the killings as "brutal and inhuman" and declared that "people are running out of patience over the ignorance of foreign forces." Abdul Rahim Ayobi, a member of parliament from Kandahar, said the shooting "gives us the message that now the American soldiers are out of the control of their generals." Kamal Safai, a member from Kunduz, said that while it was the act of a single man, "the public reaction will blame the government of America, not the soldier."
Reaction from U.S. and Nato
American and ISAF forces apologized and promised a full investigation, with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stating that the soldier "will be brought to justice and be held accountable" and that the death penalty "could be a consideration." U.S. president Barack Obama called the incident "absolutely tragic and heartbreaking" but noted that he was "proud generally" of what U.S. troops have accomplished in Afghanistan. Obama said the incident did not represent the "exceptional character" of the American military and the respect that the United States had for the people of Afghanistan.
On 13 March, he said, "the United States takes this as seriously as if it were our own citizens and our own children who were murdered. We’re heartbroken over the loss of innocent life. The killing of innocent civilians is outrageous and it’s unacceptable." In response to a reporter asking whether the killings could be likened to the 1968 My Lai massacre of civilians by U.S. forces in South Vietnam, Obama replied, "It's not comparable. It appeared you had a lone gunman who acted on his own."
General John R. Allen, commander of the ISAF, issued an apology as well. Adrian Bradshaw, the deputy commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, apologized "I wish to convey my profound regrets and dismay... I cannot explain the motivation behind such callous acts, but they were in no way part of authorised ISAF military activity." A "rapid and thorough" inquiry was promised. U.S. officials said the killings would not affect their strategies in the area.
Reaction from the Taliban
The Taliban said in a statement on its website that "sick-minded American savages" committed the "blood-soaked and inhumane crime." The militant group promised the families of the victims that it would take revenge "for every single martyr". The Taliban also accused Afghan security officials of being complicit in the attack. The militant group called off peace talks in the wake of the deadly rampage. On 13 March, the Taliban launched an attack on an Afghan government delegation which was visiting the site of the killings, killing one government soldier and injuring three.