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. Devin

    Hey CNN, why don't you report on our troops that are actually serving our country well and protecting us. I'm sure if some Arab blew a bunch of Americans away, we would hear very little about it. This man was obviously psychotic; but we don't need to continue to drag it through the mud. Thanks.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
    • wayne317

      Protecting us from poor, dirty, middle eastern people?

      March 30, 2012 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • tullymd

      We need to be protected from ourselves and from people who think the Afghan mission is of any value. It's a self inflicted wound.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • lance

      liberals dont care if american soldiers are killed their to busy spending american tax dollars on the rest of the world and bankrupting the united states.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  2. wharf0rat

    This guy must be brought to justice for killing 17 Afghan civilians. And Bush, Cheney & Rumsfeld must be brought to justice for murdering hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Iraqi civilians.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  3. The Wise One

    To be honest, anyone saying that Arabs or Middle eastern people alike are "Filthy" and "Dirty" need to go to hell. Otherwise, people saying that if a Arab, or any Middle Eastern for that matter, were to kill some U.S soldiers, that media would not report on it well. (I'm talking to you Devin..... you stupid uneducated crap) ARE YOU KIDDING??? The media will blow up if even the slightest thing happens that involves a middle eastern man/women terrorizing. The world has come to a point where this one race and kid of people are being hated because some of their people acted wrongly. The truth, however, is that we're all terrorist, all the races. Americans, Middle Easterns, Black, everyone. If people are going to start judging a whole race because one imbecile decided to do something wrong, then we might as well all be murderers. Get Educated, Speak Out.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
    • yuri pelham

      There is an epidemic of Islamic violence world wide. Like a giant destructive wild fire in the forest, it will burn itself out after doing untold damage. Check out Syria for one example. Islamic Sudanese commiting genocide. Suicide bombings across the mideast and the Islamic terrorist state of Pakistan. Other cultures are violent too but statistically insignificant.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  4. Julian Assange

    Just deliver the criminal to the AFghan people to be hanged and lets end this story!

    March 30, 2012 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
    • yuri pelham

      Story ends when our dysfunctional military generals admit defeat.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  5. lance

    nuke afganistan and pakistan 16 civilians try 60 million thats a number you liberal excrements can wail over.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @lance: how al-qaeda-y of you.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Istrt

      Umm you do know Pakistan carries Nuclear Weapons as well, right? Learn before you open you ignoramus mouth. TY.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      Of course on the off chance that some of the estimated 100 – 120 warheads that Pakistan apparently possesses survives it would be a good bet that as a result of such an act you could potentially kiss Washington goodbye.... New York would be a big hole in the ground and the bright lights of LA get really bright just before everything turns black. That is to say I think they would be a little miffed.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • saywhat

      Great idea, hope you would make it convenient to be there to witness the event.
      Fireworks you know.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  6. mark

    i think he should be tried in Afghanistan. for real justice, they need those witnesses, thus they have to try him in Afghanistan.

    also.... why cant we get out now?
    do they REALLY need our help so much that when we leave by 2014 it will all be better?

    it will never get better over there with our help. i feel like our presence is just making life worse for the Afghanistan people.

    this is the century of being ashamed to be American

    March 30, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @mark: whoa.. the century just started.. give us a minute..

      March 30, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • angryersmell

      If Americans should be ashamed of their country, then there's little hope for the rest of the world, because there's a long list of awful countries on this planet. If countries around the world don't want what America is selling, then they shouldn't be buying. If no one wanted to buy drugs, there'd be no drug dealers. Afghanistan is a mess for many reasons, and a lot of them have nothing to do with America. Besides this, every single American is not responsible for the war in Afghanistan or incidents like this that have occured, just like every single Afghan is not responsible for harboring Osama Bin Laden.

      It's time for Afghans to take control of their own country and join the 21st century, otherwise in a few years, it's them who should be ashamed, because after America and friends leave, they'll be no one to blame but themselves if their country falls apart again.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  7. angryersmell

    They don't want justice for this act; they want revenge for the entire war and all the real and preceived wrongs committed against them by America over the past 30 years. As a result of all the brain damage he's received, he could have sleepwalked through the whole thing and they would never understand or accept that. If Bales was left in the hands of the Afghans, there would be no justice; there would only be a lynching.

    Time to go and let them solve their own problems. Move on from the Soviet Invasion, move on from the American boogeyman, and build a country worth living in. Otherwise, see you in a few years Afghans, because if you can't keep your problems inside your own borders this time, then we'll just have to go in and do this all over again.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
    • mark

      wouldnt a Lynching be justice though?
      how else is he supposed to pay for his actions?

      March 30, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  8. stopthis

    GTFOOA now!

    March 30, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  9. krehator

    I guess you people don't read the articles about the Afghani's killing innocent people, blowing them up, or abusing them?

    That happens every single day in Afghanistan, and I don't see any big protests about it. They only protest when the US does something. Strange..... don't you think?

    March 30, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @krehator: so if the afghanis jumped off a bridge, i guess you would, too?

      March 30, 2012 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Carolyn Gray

      I do not believe it is our country, we acheived our mission, it is time to let go

      March 30, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  10. Gio

    ok this is complete bs "safegaurding our country.." ever since osama died theres probably no chance that the al Qaeda will attack U.S our gov. should get out of other countries businesses and mind the problems that they have back at home, the USG is talking about protecting our countries, yeah protect our country but protecting our country and trying to remain the superpower in the world by controlling everyone are two different things

    March 30, 2012 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      It is not about protecting the US from the terrorists in Afghanistan anymore, it should be about cleaning up the God awful mess that the US and its allies created in the place.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. navy_vet_80

    I think they should take him right back there to face justice for the crimes he commited over there. Hang him end of story.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • wharf0rat

      Excellent idea. Take Bush, Cheney & Rumsfeld to Iraq & Afghanistan and let them face justice for their war crimes which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  12. TYLER

    This guy was insane and should be put in a hospital

    March 30, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  13. regina

    bales did a 4 time tour. omg when is enough enough. these young men come back totally out of touch and dismembered and mentally unstable. our young men at that. its very sad what they are doing to our men. they say they have overcrowded jails well let them go over there and if they dont come back who cares. it would save the taxpapyers some money. what does the goverment do for our men absolutely nothing. but they take care of other countries. when are they going to take care of us.. ifn they gave all that money to the american people they would have built up the economy and also people would not be homeless. where do we live ? we are becoming a comunistic country as it seems. very sad 😦

    March 30, 2012 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  14. Guest2122

    Hang him. End of story!!!

    March 30, 2012 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. cdgfla

    I'd be more than willing to bet my last dollar that this guy is a right wing militant tea bagger republitard bigot filled with a sense of hyper religiousity bent on doing his christian lord's "good work" by killing the non believers.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
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