Afghanistan massacre: What we've learned in the past week
March 29th, 2012
10:57 PM ET

Afghanistan massacre: What we've learned in the past week

Allegations that a U.S. soldier suspected of killing 17 Afghan civilians briefly returned to his base in the midst of the attacks are among the developments that have surfaced in the case in recent days.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, is accused of walking into two villages near an Army outpost in Kandahar province’s Panjwai district and killing men, women and children on March 11. U.S. authorities have said Bales acted alone, leaving at night and eventually surrendering at his base.

The U.S. military has charged Bales with 17 counts of murder with premeditation, for which he could face the death penalty. He also faces six counts of attempted murder and two counts of assault and is being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being flown from Afghanistan a few days after the killings.

Here are some of the new developments in the case this week:

U.S. official: Bales left base twice, alleged to have talked of killings

Two senior U.S. officials told CNN that Bales sneaked off his remote outpost twice during his alleged rampage, entering one village during each trip.

One U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation said an Afghan guard allegedly spotted Bales leaving his outpost around 1 a.m. It is not clear why Bales' superiors weren’t alerted, and the official said Bales was not noticed when he allegedly returned to the compound an hour later.

During the roughly 30 minutes when he was on the base, he woke at least one roommate and claimed he had been killing Afghan civilians off the base, which his roommate dismissed as nonsense, the official said, according to CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh.

The official said a different Afghan guard saw Bales leave the base a second time. He alerted his command that someone had left the outpost, and U.S. troops formed a search party, according to the official.

About 3:30 a.m., the official said, a surveillance camera spotted Bales returning to the base, and the search team found him just outside the compound.

Afghan guards also told reporter Yalda Hakim of Australia’s SBS network that Bales left twice.

The U.S. official said Bales was supposed to have been on duty guarding the base that night and would have had full body armor and weaponry as standard.

Bales’ attorney, John Henry Browne, who has said the prosecution’s case will be difficult to prove, told CNN that the account of Bales leaving twice “is an allegation.”

“It’s certainly not proof of anything,” Browne said. “And obviously … I can’t tell you what my client remembers or (doesn’t) remember, other than telling you that he has some memory problems about everything that happened that night.”

Motive for killings unclear

U.S. officials haven’t suggested any motive in the slayings. Bales has maintained his silence on the killings, the U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation said.

An Afghan general charged with leading Afghanistan’s investigation into the killings told Yalda Hakim, the Australian reporter, that villagers have alleged that Bales was upset over an injury to a U.S. colleague.

In response to these suggestions, the U.S. official said that a soldier at the base had lost a leg in an explosion three or four days earlier, but that there was no reason to believe Bales had been present at the scene of that blast.

The official said he did not think alcohol had fueled the crime. "I do not think that drinking played a big role, but there may have been some level of drinking," the official said.

Villagers say there was more than one attacker

The U.S. military says there is no evidence that more than one man was involved in the shootings. But Australian reporter Hakim - the first Western journalist to visit the scene - said some survivors and relatives of survivors told her that they believe more than one U.S. soldier was present when the killings took place. Others speak of seeing a single American soldier leaving the camp that night.

One 8-year-old girl, who said she saw her father killed, told Hakim that there were other men with the gunman, “standing in the yard, holding lights.”

Mohammed Wazir, a man whose relatives were killed, told CNN he doubts the massacre was the act of a single man.

"The Americans insist there was one killer, but we insist there was more than one," he said. "The Americans should stop lying. They should confess what the reality and truth is. We want justice to be done. We want it from God."

U.S. pays families of victims; body count unclear

Over the weekend, the U.S. government paid a total of $860,000 to the families of victims, Afghan officials said - $50,000 for each of 16 dead, and $10,000 for each of six wounded.

On Monday, two men whose relatives were killed told CNN they refused the money.

"We want justice. We want our courts to make the decision, so the people who are involved are prosecuted. This happened in Afghanistan and we lost our family members here in Afghanistan, so we want these people to be prosecuted in front of us, so we can watch them while they are being hanged," said Mohammed Wazir.

But the governor of Kandahar, Tooryalai Wesa, said all four families who lost relatives on March 11 sent representatives to the meeting and accepted money.

The dead have been identified as Mohammad Dawood Abdullah, Khudaidad Mohmmad Jama, Nazar Mohammad Taj Mohammad, Payendo, Robina, Sahtarina Sultan Mohammad, Zuhra Abdul Hameed, Nazia Doost Mohammad, Mosooma Mohammad Wazir, Farida Mohammad Wazir, Palwasha Mohammad Wazir, Nabia Mohammad Wazir, Asmatullah Mohammad Wazir, Faizullah Mohammad Wazir, Esa Mohammad Mohammad Husain and Akhtar Mohammad Murad Ali.

The number of victims has been a source of confusion. Afghan officials initially said there were 16 fatalities, but U.S. military prosecutors charged Bales with killing 17.  The charge sheet listed four women among 17 victims, while initial U.S. and Afghan reports listed three women among 16 dead.

A NATO spokesman, Col. Gary Kolb, said last week that investigators felt they had evidence to charge Bales with 17 counts of murder.

Gen. John Allen, the American commander of the International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan, put the number of dead at 17.

"We should not be surprised, as the investigation went forward, that an additional number was added to that (original 16)," Allen told reporters Monday at the Pentagon. "As the investigation goes forward, we'll get greater clarity on that."

Questions surround legal process for Bales

Afghans are insisting that Bales be returned to Afghanistan to face trial, with villagers and lawmakers questioning the U.S. military's account of what happened. But a military official in Afghanistan has said that Bales will face military justice in the United States.

Bales could face the death penalty if convicted of any of the murder counts against him.

If and when the case comes to trial, Bales' lawyer, John Henry Browne, said, it is going to be "extremely difficult" for the prosecution.

"They have no murder scene, no forensics," Browne said outside his Seattle office. "I'm going to make them prove every claim."

Military law experts acknowledge that proving the case may be difficult, in part because the victims were buried quickly according to Muslim practice, which made autopsies impossible. It also will be difficult to bring Afghan witnesses to the United States and get them to testify.

U.S. military investigators have not been given access to the crime scenes, preventing them from collecting DNA and other evidence. However, Afghan investigators may have passed along DNA evidence they collected, an official said. Prosecutors presumably would want to tie victims' DNA to blood found on Bales' clothing.

U.S. policy and strategy remain unchanged - so far

Allen, the general in charge of the war, says the current plan to withdraw most foreign troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 has not changed.

"In the long run, our goals can only be achieved and then secured by Afghan forces," he told the House Armed Services Committee last week. "Transition, then, is the linchpin of our strategy, not merely the 'way out.'"

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was not swayed by a New York Times/CBS News poll that concluded that 69% of Americans want U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan now.

"We cannot fight wars by polls," Panetta said Tuesday. "There's no question that the American people have tired of war just like the Afghan people have tired of war," but the U.S. government would continue with its strategy in Afghanistan, he said.

"We have to operate based on what we believe is the best strategy to achieve the mission that we are embarked on," he said. "And the mission ... is to safeguard our country by ensuring that the Taliban and al Qaeda never again find a safe haven in Afghanistan."

CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen notes with alarm the rising number of attacks on NATO troops, particularly Americans, by Afghan police officers and soldiers who are supposed to be allies.

"This pattern of attacks raises a fundamental problem for the plans of the United States and other NATO countries to draw down their forces over the next two years," Bergen wrote in an analysis for CNN. "That plan is, in part, predicated on the idea that as Afghan forces take the lead in security operations, they will be supported by small numbers of U.S./NATO advisers embedded in Afghan army and police units. Those advisers will be quite vulnerable to attack."

Dr. James M. Lindsay, a senior vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in an essay for CNN that the war has outlived its purpose and has become too costly.

"Even if the objectives of the stay-the-course camp could be achieved, they aren’t worth it in terms of blood and treasure," he wrote.

soundoff (215 Responses)
  1. ♔Mmmmm♕

    this man resembles a young senator mccain...

    March 29, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Scottish Mama

    I was wondering if the young soldiers lawyer and the army cannot get access to the crime scene how can they prosecute him?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jason

      This man and others that were involved should be given the death penalty...Its not the first time our soldiers have terrorized the Afghanis...Bush said they hate us for our freedom, I think they hate us because we take away their lives and than try to justify it....We need to leave afghanistan they have been in a war state since russia was there which was 30 years ago...Imagine living in war for 30 years....and than you got some cowboy soldiers murdering Men, women, and children ,two entire villages just because they CAN

      March 31, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Me

    Can you say fall guy? Highly unlikely he is responsible.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:46 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • 1stSgt-Topkick

      For all who doubt he did it, perhaps you can explain:

      (1) WHY HIS OWN LAWYER has not denied it from the giddy-up?

      (2) WHY you doubt what the villagers have said?

      (3) WHY you doubt what the Afghan guards on duty that night said what they said?

      (4) WHY the US Army would even NEED a "fall guy" for these murders?

      I understand that you believe that the aliens from Mars that Orson Wells announced on the radio in October of 1938 are still in New Jersey. However, the rest of us haven't seen any of them in all these years.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. High Hopes

    Hey, Mama!

    I was wondering the same thing. But, it sounds like he talked to a friend abouy his attack of the first village and then upon returning from his second attack, he surrendered and, I think I remember reading that he confessed when taken into custody. That's probably going to be the best evidence.

    His clothes would be drenched in blood and they can gather dna.from relatives to perform dna matches to the blood on his clothing. Then, too, like you said, if witnesses can't attend, they can testify via live telecast. It sounds like Afghanistan officials did some investigating that could ne handed over to the American Officials.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:52 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Really Jersey

      Unfortunately, the forensics & his own confessions might be more reliable than the "witness" testimonies. It seems the villagers' stories keep changing. It is readily apparent why the military trial was the correct decision.

      March 30, 2012 at 5:00 am | Report abuse |
  5. Scottish Mama

    @High Hopes you have a remarkable memory. I also thought that at first they showed a soldier picking up spent ammo off the ground in one of the victims homes, so the military must have some evidence I would think.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:57 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. High Hopes

    Yeah, the defense attorney keeps talking about autopsies, but I'm sure there will be plenty of pictures of the victims. Do you remember him confessing when he was caught returning to camp?

    March 30, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scottish Mama

      @High I do remember it being said but by whom I do not remember. I also thought that Islam religion they had to bury the person within a day and they do not preform autopsies on their dead. It also could differ from each region though.
      @high I am going to bed now. Good night, it was nice seeing you as usual. I told Chrissy good night awhile ago.

      March 30, 2012 at 1:25 am | Report abuse |
  7. Superman

    Any veterans out there that fought in afghanistan? I would like to know why this guy was put back in battle. And what could be done to prevent this from happening again

    March 30, 2012 at 1:13 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • 1stSgt-Topkick

      @Superman:

      This guy was put back in battle because our military, today, does NOT have a draft to replenish its ranks with fresh, new recruits as in previous wars. The people in service today are all VOLUNTEERS, thus a smaller number of people with 3+ year contracts. So, (as Donald Rumsfeld once said) "you go to war with what you've got" and that means the SAME people have to be used time and again during their contract times.

      Let's not forget that after 9-11, President Bush and Rumsfeld put out a "stop loss" order, meaning virtually NO ONE could be discharged or leave the military (except for "cause" or medical conditions) and then started an unnecessary war in Iraq. This caused us to use up troops, their time and their equipment. In Bush's final year (and the beginning of the Obama administration), when he decided to go back into Afghanistan he had to use the same troops that had served several tours in Iraq and Obama then sent them to Afghanistan.

      The draft needs to be returned so that EVERY young American (male AND female) serves 2 years active duty in the same way that Israel runs its military. NO deferments for college; NO conscientious objections (they can do NON-combat support duties) and EQUAL time / training for all who serve. That will address this problem.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. High Hopes

    Hey, Superman!

    I'm not a veteran, but just so you know, Bates had a history of violence long before he had a head injury... so maybe he shouldn't have been allowed to enlist, at all.

    But when you think about the things he did to those 9 babies, its hard to come up with an excuse or an explanation.

    March 30, 2012 at 1:24 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. High Hopes

    Hey, Superman!

    I'm not a veteran, but just so you know, Bates had a history of violence long before he had a head injury... so maybe he shouldn't have been allowed to enlist, at all.

    But when you think about the things he did to those 9 babies, its hard to come up with an excuse or an explanation.
    :(

    March 30, 2012 at 1:27 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. High Hopes

    Hugs, Sweet Mama...

    Sleep tight and I'll see you tomorrow.
    :)

    March 30, 2012 at 1:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Bill

    maybe he was ticked off at the 150+ US and NATO troops killed by our illustrious Afghan military "allies"

    March 30, 2012 at 2:32 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Elle

    I just have a question. What is the real story?

    March 30, 2012 at 2:42 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • 1stSgt-Topkick

      @elle

      The "Real" story cannot be found in the media or by comments here or elsewhere. I know it's difficult – but You'll have to wait for the RESULTS of the trial (if one is convened).

      March 30, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. squawks

    No one has mentioned Bales' Miranda rights since this is going to be pursued as a civilian, not a war crime. Ya think we might get out of foreign areas ASAP? We are not doing those people any good and Americans have lost lives not doing anyone any good. GET OUT of the Middle East, and Cuba too while we're at it. Send criminals back to Cuba.

    March 30, 2012 at 2:56 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Really Jersey

      He is being tried under the US military code of justice...Not a civilian court.

      March 30, 2012 at 5:04 am | Report abuse |
    • 1stSgt-Topkick

      You must have come into the story late. "Miranda rights" don't have a lot to do with anything, didn't you hear? The very first reports were that he invoked them right off the bat. As to getting out, again you must have been asleep for years. President BUSH initially announced the withdrawal date from Afghanistan as 2013 before he left office almost 4 years ago. As for troops in Cuba, there's a perpetual lease on Guantanamo and no President is going to close a military resupply point in the Caribbean Sea.

      Tune up that dial on your "Wayback Machine" and you might learn a few things.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bozon

    And we know the Taliban didn't put on american uniforms and equipment and do this how??

    March 30, 2012 at 3:06 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. marcel81

    @bill so because of some afghan military personal or extremists we should excuse the actions of this man of killing innocent men, women, and children? YOU are a disgrace to everything our country stands.for. MORON!

    March 30, 2012 at 3:13 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hussein

      Thank you Marcel81, I too wonder how anyone could even begin to justify the outright murderous rampage these monster/s conducted in the middle of the night. Did you hear the account of the little 8 year old girl, or the mother who witnessed the soldier stick a gun in the mouth of her infant (who was crying) and then pulled the trigger??? Then proceed to kill 8 other babies point blank! JUSTIFY THAT.....I would love to see how much lower one can go.....down to subhuman levels I presume. This is truly gut wrenching, and some of these comments on here make me wonder how twisted people can be.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:56 am | Report abuse |
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