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. Bea Oates

    I feel strongly it is time to bring the troops home. This has been a volunteer military making some do duty four too many times too much! If it was drafted military like Vietnam, then it would be more fair, there would be no Blair happening as it is now. Please take the stress off the few who do what others will not do to protect our country!

    March 30, 2012 at 3:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy

      How are troops in Aghanistan protecting your country???? That doesn't make any sense!

      March 30, 2012 at 7:34 am | Report abuse |
  2. stormy haigh

    I think the problem here is not the soldier, but the military itself. My husband is a soldier and the military is becoming less and less concerned with the moral of their men and women. They work long hours for little pay, don't get to see families often, get stoplossed when they come out of a deployment, and get flack for taking leave because they are short manned. But the military refuses to fix it!!! These people are killing OUR people! Why are we apologizing to them for burning Korans when it was a matter of safety for our men? I don't think the death penalty would do any justice for anyone! This even should make the military step back and say hey what are we doing wrong? But I doubt that will ever happen. Hoorah!

    March 30, 2012 at 3:27 am | Report abuse |
    • khanjeek

      "What are they doing wroing?" They are killing innocent people.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
    • LOL

      The real problem is that the military uses idiots like you.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:34 am | Report abuse |
    • 1stSgt-Topkick

      Ma'am Thank You and your husband and your family for your service and your support of our troops. YOU are one of the few who ought to LEGITIMATELY make comment on this story. Most of the others here have NEVER served, DON'T CARE that they never served and WILL FORGET thinking about men like your husband 10 minutes after they leave this webpage. Many others are "trolls" trying to make their lives important in the only way they know how – by making stupid comments. Unfortunately, these same facts are true on much of our Congress

      YOUR concerns should be taken COMPLETELY to hear and should be the focus of Congressional hearings and VA readjustments.

      Again, Thank you for your service.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      stormy haigh,

      You're right of course. It is not the problem with soldiers. Here is a link for proof and why and of what many of the offspring of those who fought bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan have to look forward to facing and why we should be considered the leader of the World. Because if atrocities like this are the responsibility of those countries how should we handle it?,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=f8a9e6f1f975469e&biw=1076&bih=611

      March 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Andy

    Stormy haigh
    You're not really showing any sympathy towards this guy are, are you? Our soldiers are in their country fighting "terrorism" so yeah we shouldn't be burning their holy books in their own country. We are in their country so we should respect their culture and religion. We can't be disrespecting their religion and killing their people and still "Why are we apologizing to them."

    March 30, 2012 at 4:06 am | Report abuse |
    • TS

      I agree with you on that no doubt. Also on that note, do we try to make other countries like ours. We need to stop trying to make people think that we know whats best for them because we really don't. What is right for us is not right for them.

      March 30, 2012 at 5:21 am | Report abuse |
    • dvizzle

      I personally dont think he did nothing wrong, he was definetly not in his right state of mind, prolly numerous deployments, probably had ptsd! I know when I was in Afghanistan , it was terrible I seen alot of good guys Die or get hurt, so I have no sympathy for none of them, its only bad when we do something, this country is becoming to soft! this is not what we were established on! America is not weak and we need to stop acting that way! The reason this country is the way it is, is because of people always trying to put there soft opinions where they dont belong, most of yall never been there? so how do you know whats really going on out there except the coverage and lies they pass on the TV, wake up America if we dont stand for our selves who will!

      March 30, 2012 at 5:58 am | Report abuse |
    • aviva1964

      dvizzle – Really? I was in for 11 years and saw a ton of horror. That's not an excuse to kill civilians, EVER. Soldiers have it tough – we have to watch horror and hold it together. Why do you think there are rules of war? War crimes? This guy brings shame on all of us – he needs to be prosecuted.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob Kendziora

      You're right we are in their country and for a very good reason. Those rag heads took out the twin towers, and when it happened the rag heads danced in the streets of New York. A rag head U.S.Army Major buys a gun, goes into the barracks and kills 19 of our soldiers and wounds 29. An exchange rag head at Virginia Tech rents a 4-wheel Jeep and runs over numerous students and kills 8. When the Police asked him why he did it he stated it's retaliation for us killing his people. The rag heads over there burned over 300 of our bibles and what did we do about it? NOTHING. I bought 4 korans a month ago and used them to cook pork chops and ham. I'll probably do it again.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @bob: no afghanis were on the planes, and i doubt many even knew it happened. and even though most of them were saudis, most saudis didn't do it, either. i appreciate you showing your idiocy right up front, though.

      blaming all 'ragheads' for what happened on 9/11 is like blaming all whites for the genocides in the americas, the balkans, or germany; blaming all blacks for darfur and rwanda; or blaming all asians for pol pot and the khmer rouge.

      you, sir, are a moron.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      now that i think about it, bob, it's people like you that are the problem. all of the aforementioned atrocities, including the twin towers, were done by people just like you. people who wanted to purge other people who were somehow, perhaps superficially, different from them.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  4. jarrett622

    Ya know, after watching the video of that reporter going there to interview the villagers who lost family members and hearing them tell there was many more men and helicopters as well, my son, recently discharged from the Army, stated that he thinks perhaps there was some kind of black ops thing going on. Whether Bales was one of them or simply in the right place at the right time no one will probably ever know.

    The military has put our troops at risk and in harms way by sending them back over seas on deployment after deployment. It really needs to stop now. We need to bring the troops home. After this incident they're even more at risk and things are going to get very ugly.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Really Jersey

      The reporter said 2 of the children told her there was only 1 soldier. They then filmed the 8 year old saying a few, only the widow is claiming there were Tens of soldiers. The reporter says there were "differing" accounts. The story seems to be differing so widely among the Afghans...Is this reflecting a thirst for vengeance rather than the facts?
      On the other hand...The surveillance videos DO corroborate what soldiers on the base, plus the 2 separate Afghans on the base all agree forms a pretty good timeline of what happened.
      They all say the soldier left the base alone...He came back & woke someone who paid no attention to what that person thought was his "crazy" talk... He left the base again... While he was gone this time, the base was alerted to his absence... He was caught by the soldiers when he crawled back into the camp, after the second time.
      Quite frankly; There is no need for the Afghan villagers to embroider the facts in an attempt to gain vengeance. Just having the evidence of his words to the other soldier, combined with the victim's blood on his clothes is pretty damning already. The base's timeline will also be sworn to by the soldiers who remained on the base. The military fully intends to provide justice for the deaths of the victims.
      If they do testify however; the Villagers who were witnesses MUST provide fully factual accounts & know that any misguided attempts to exaggerate it or alter it will simply result in their testimony being discounted as false by the defense. There IS no need...the deaths of civilians are horrific enough & military justice is already sternly favorable to victims of such terrible crimes.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
  5. Shawn Irwin

    The American Government is sick to the core with corruption and greed. These wars have not been fought for defense of the nation, they are fought for oil and enrichment of the nation. There is no reason whatsoever to be proud of a nation that has unjustly killed, wounded and maimed millions of people.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Arslan Faisal

      Shawn you are spot on. If American Govt stop messing around with others no one will ever even think of attacking US citizens and land. The biggest terrorist organizations on this planet are US Govt and US Army, not Taliban because they are nothing but creation of US Govt.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:10 am | Report abuse |
  6. Really Jersey

    The camp surveillance footage shows there was only one attacker. Plus, two different Afghans on post both reported ONE person leaving & coming back as well. These Afghan villager's bogus reports of multiple attackers are very clearly coached. In the beginning, a CHILD from the village attacked, freely said there was only ONE attacker, while a man from a different village not attacked at all, said there were multiple attackers. When the facts keep shifting like this, it shows there is deceit being practiced among the villagers. No wonder they deny access to the site. The facts from the camp are consistently the same...Even from the Afghans in camp.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:55 am | Report abuse |
    • damo12345

      Oh don't be such a conspiracy theorist. Coached?

      It was late at night and something out of a nightmare happened. It's very easy for memories to play tricks on people. It's quite common for 5 people to witnesses the exact same event and somehow produce 5 different contradictory stories, which they fully believe, despite the fact that they all saw the same thing.

      When a madman is causing more death than it seems like it should be possible for one man to cause, people often "remember" there being more than one killer. The exact same thing happened with the survivors of the Norway massacre last year. Survivors were certain they saw more than one man. Nope, it was just one man moving quickly and with terrifying and deadly efficiency against people that were unarmed.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. marcel81

    I work for a company that supports our troops and donates as well as gives our members of the armed forces as well as their families assistance and benifts for their effort but to condone the actions of what happened to these.people just because they should be brought home is ludicrous. Of course i want our troops home and think our government should be focusing on our troops rather than political stance in a foreign country buti believe we are ultimately there fighting for a just cause. However to split hairs over why or what the reason are for the people of afghanistan to be outraged over what happened is just stupid. It was cold blooded murder, pure and simple. What would be your reaction if this happened here at home? Lets say it was a police officer shooting up a neighborhood of a prominent gang. Would the murder of women and children be justified then? These afghanies weren't even comparable to the threat of gang members. How many times have witnesses on our own soil stated incorrect facts

    March 30, 2012 at 5:24 am | Report abuse |
  8. marcel81

    They are traumatized and probably can't accept the fact that one lone soilder was responsible for the hienous act. Maybe in their mind they could have stopped one person from murdering their families.

    March 30, 2012 at 5:28 am | Report abuse |
  9. CongressFavoringForeignCitizensOverSoldiers

    Capitol Hill Cons
    What I have witnessed this week is that Congress is funding through the DOE 100% college tuition to foreign students that will not return any benefit to the United States while active duty soldiers pay off the college tuition of their children while laying their lives down.

    I have witnessed CNN and other news organizations shut down comments on religion section and in education showing only commentary from state university administrators that make nearly half a million dollars in annual salary – equal to the president of the United States as a gesture that we are all supposed to suck it up and accept it. Blocking comments from readers to protect the “evangelism” of the Southern Baptist Convention around the world that is largely the primary supporter of funding college tuition for foreign students, bringing them here and expecting tax payers to foot the bill while these that come primarily from Muslim nations are given a free education and then flown back home, where they will once again take up their Voodoo black magic or atheism.

    I see our United States soldiers being taken advantage of – with extreme abuse, extreme expectation of service by demand when the law does not support it.

    Increasing messages of hatred against our soldiers and their families as if they are something to loathe, but where none of you would be able to speak against the government if it were not for their sacrifice.

    I see news organizations shutting out the voice of the people who object to all of this as if we now live under a communist regime.

    I am disgusted, sickened by this president that fails to respect our troops properly and has never even visited any of our soldiers in Afghanistan, while he expects that we will willingly re-elect him in November – this “Commander-in-Thief” that has robbed our nation of its glory and our soldiers of morale.

    This is the United States of America?

    It looks more and more like Cuba every day forward.

    March 30, 2012 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
  10. neonangel1

    I can't help wondering when Bales was doing his tours in Iraq if it's possible he killed other civilians. if he's guilty of course which it seems very likely.

    March 30, 2012 at 6:18 am | Report abuse |
  11. Reason is wisdom.

    To address the Bales case, I suspect that 1: he did not act alone- he's merely "taking one for the team". And 2: there is no doubt in my mind that he or "they" were driven by a motive. Something ocurred to trigger these men. Being that said, I agree with the lack of concern that our Armed Forces have for our soldiers. A human is a human. No amount of training can ensure that a mental and or physical breakdown can and does occur. These soldiers see and do things no human being should see or do. They are sent away for long periods of time, away from the essencial element that make a person be socialy invoved. And to top it off, have no lap of time to recouperate nor get the pyscological screening needed to ensure they are well to go back to war. Sendin them back 2, 3 and 4 times (if they don't get killed sooner) only puts a strain on their mental capacity or a ticker on a bomb. This tragity ocurred in Afghanistan, but it could have easly been one at home. Ultimatly, my point is that our soldiers need proper rotations, evaluations and family time to be stable emotionally and be able to perform adequitly.

    March 30, 2012 at 6:35 am | Report abuse |
  12. angel611

    Victim number 17 does not exist. It is made up for $50,000 the US has agreed to pay, even though the US has not been allowed to examine the scene. For all we know two people were killed and we can't even be sure who killled them.
    What are the Afghans hiding by not allowing the US to process the "crime scene"?

    March 30, 2012 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @angel611: reading isn't your strong suit, is it.. they said 16, *we* said 17..

      March 30, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      I would imagine that the Afghan authorities are thinking perhaps it is on their turf that the incident occurred so perhaps they have the right to investigate it..... just a guess on my part.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  13. myvoice2012

    if it was a foreigner that had done this in our country, which they have, we would have put them up in prison on our tax dollars for the rest of their lives, which we are currently doing, yet this guy has already been judged and hung apparently without even looking at his side of the story just because he is U.S. Military. we got people who do worse than that in society and they get life in prison. What was his frame of mind at the time, was he acting on orders, is he taking the fall for someone else? we need to bring them home, let those over seas take care of their own country. it is all about the oil or whatever, so many excuses. now the price that we are paying is loosing our soldiers, and the government just tosses them aside, used and abused once they are done.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:25 am | Report abuse |
  14. clarke

    We may never know the truth. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter because what was done, was just wrong. You just don't go around killing women and children in cold blood.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      You are absolutely right. That was just wrong. So if you can go to this link to see what is OK to do with women and children if we don't kill them.

      March 31, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. cpc65

    It was actually George Zimmerman who did all the shooting. The Afghan families were wearing hoodies and threatened him while they slept in their homes.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Kaibosh

      Love it, very funny, well played.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
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