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. Larry L

    Unlike the Iraq debacle, the initial actions in Afghanistan had a solid purpose – kick the $#!+ out of the terrorist cells that participated in 9/11. Certainly an equally important goal was to prevent Pakistan's implosion and help them maintain stability of a fragmented, nuclear-armed government. We've been somewhat successful in both of those arenas but the spoken goal of restoring a stable democracy in Afghanistan has never been realistic – not for America and not for any other nation. It's time to get out of that cesspool of tribal crime and bribery. Is it fair to ask anybody to be the last person to die in Afghanistan?

    March 30, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ralph

    Something is not right about this entire situation, I hope this soldier is not being framed.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  3. CNNshill

    "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.”

    How convenient...

    March 30, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  4. cnnisworthless

    So WEEKS after CNN has run story after story stoking the fires of the Trevor Martin case, headlines over and over about racist this racist that and virtually sealing the opinions of the stupid liberals who come here, they insultingly throw a 'Avoid Rush to Judgement" article., and another one where you pretend you are 'peeling back the story'.

    You guys are amazingly inept, you should be ashamed and revoked from providing your "news" to anyone.This type of stuff is the reason the only audience you have left is your worthless, atheist, abortion loving, uneducated liberals.

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

      So angry. Do you need a hug?

      March 30, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • 1stSgt-Topkick

      We thank YOU for identifying YOURSELF as one of the "types" of people who follow CNN. Otherwise:

      (1) Why would YOU be on this websites after YOU obviously have followed "weeks and weeks" of stories on CNN?
      (2) Why would YOU take the time to put up a moniker "cnnisworthless" and post a comment at all?

      BTW, nobody can "revoke" a media privilege. Go get a history book and read about something called the 1st Amendment. Reading it obviously won't make YOU any smarter. You've already proved how you think.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. El Diablo

    I hope that baby killer fries.

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

      El Diablo.............So do I if he's guilty!

      March 30, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Emil Sinclair

      If we're lucky he'll take care of you too before he goes.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      that reminds me.. i'm about a third of the way through diablo ii... again. necromancer this time..

      later, y'all

      March 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jay

    CNN should be ashamed of itself ... how did the word "allegedly" even come into this situation. The guy massacres a village, and now the media, CNN including and not to forget the platoon commander, is trying to potray a 'humane picture' of this guy.. shame on you!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  7. PoBoy

    Sadly, he is going to go free because of the Afghan's obstinance and America's supposedly best criminal justice system in the world. His lawer knew what he was doing when he accepted this case to put himself back in the limelight.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  8. Beais

    So the Taliban enacted revenge by killing more Afganis. But that gets buried. Nobody will care about the 9 that have died today. lol

    March 30, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  9. DDM

    Hello? GET OUT. USA cannot afford our war machine there & anyhow needs to regroup to consider growth of dangers in Syria & Iran instead. Nothing USA can do for the people in Afghanistan, nothing Islam will allow to change there, nothing to be gained on either side.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jerry Pelletier

    Hey CNN...This is all old news....your whole website is old news...Must be why CNN's ratings are below dirt!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  11. Amy

    I feel so bad for bales and his family, this is what happens when pointless wars go on and on. I'm suprised more attacks like this haven't happend. If bales actually did kill these "civlians" then he need phyciatric treatment not prison.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  12. Cheerup6

    We all want to get out of Afganistan now for obvious reasons, but do we imagine leaving it in a state where Al-Qaeda comes back as a winnir and murder innocent Afganis again. What is the difference for Afghan's?

    March 30, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  13. windsorontariowithnooil

    As a Canadian observer, I am sickened by the "toxic fusion of arrogance and ignorance that Americans have- about the Middle East, about Persian culture, about Asian integration, about the nuclear issues, about the oil industry, about the global economy. North American media, including CNN, provides no insights, no truths, no compassion or empathy of the others -only propaganda that promotes American security, culture and the economic and military superiority of the west. Nothing informative, truthful or factual is presented about the rest of the world. It’s like Americans see the rest of the world as a mirage. This toxic fusion is sending, the once great American culture, on a nose dive with destiny. You cannot continue seeing the world only through a prism of US/Israel eyes. The needs, fears and security of the rest of the world will come knocking one day. But of course you American’s don’t care about what others have to say do you?

    March 30, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • 3chicks

      I care.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Freedtoo

      Also speaking as a Canadian, I find your comments offense and ill informed. By the way, your reference "US/ Israel" tells me a little something about your character and I must question whether you really are a "Canadian" or just live there.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • windsorontariowithnooil

      I'm sorry that I offended another Canadian. However, I stand by my comments and invite you to provide information that proves me wrong. Finally, I find it very typical that Americans and their allies are particularly troubled by any reference, criticism, analyzes or discussion about Israel. Of all the points of American indifference that I highlighted you only singled out the Israeli association? Very sad yet typical. You are aware that there is a great big world out there right?

      March 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Awabnavi

    YEAH! The EXCUSES and SYMPATHY is gathering momentum and what with the LACK OF EVIDENCE as stated by his lawyer, his case will soon be dismissed as other cases have been dismissed or his will be given a LIGHT SENTENCE and will be treated with GARLANDS, ICE CREAM, WINE and WOMEN.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  15. Best US

    How convenient! I go for killing rampage, comeback safely, eat and drink for another hour, refresh, pee, and then go back to killing spree, comeback safely. For hours, I have done that in a calculated way, and now, I don't remember anything. Easy, easy! Wow! Go read some bible, that will help!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • artourr

      RE: Terrorism alert: KGB total brainwashing technique

      US Ministry of Defense provides automatic guns and weapons to thousands of potential terrorists who can commit the same or similar crime as during this Kandahar massacre of civilians in Afghanistan or during the Fort Hood (Texas) shooting where on November 5, 2009 a single gunman killed 13 people and wounded 29 others. Why is it so? This is because some part of Russian KGB (not Moscow or Putin) uses a brainwashing technique that requires only a few hours and leads to total mind control. After GULAG KGB brainwashing, such military personnel people can take guns and kill many others and themselves. The technique was invented by KGB agents in GULAG labor camps where they experimented with and sacrificed more than 10 million Soviet people.

      I repeat this brainwashing technique requires only a few hours of intimacy for total submission or mind control (so that there is no confusion). This can be easily achieved due to, for example, prevalent promiscuity and lack of any public awareness about this method and KGB people who use such brainwashing. Note that such crimes are nearly impossible to prove, since the brainwashed people either kill themselves or, if they survive, will say only those things that were ordered them to say.

      There are obviously some reasons for those KGB bums to make, for example, US soldiers kill civilians in Afghanistan.

      Artour Rakhimov, PhD

      March 31, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Teresa

      You have never served in the military or you wouldn't be opening your mouth. The malaria drugs given to US service men and women result in some very strange side effects. Especially when they are given to soldiers with previous head injuries. The paranoia alone would have caused this behavior. 9days after the killings the US reexamined, again, there use of the most dangerous anti malaria drug....that says more than any other article I've read to date.

      March 31, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
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