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. Chris

    They want justice from their God? So they want nothing to happen I suppose.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Muhammad Maqsud

      It is ALLAH who can punish such killing.. Its not possible for HUMANS to judge him properly... HOW???
      – This incident tell us that this man killed 17 Afghan civilians including KIDS... Can anyone by return make him feel 17 time killed in ""SLEEPING""?????? U can only give him DEATH Penalty for once only n u cant make him ALIVE again...
      But ALLAH the ALMIGHTY can KILL him 17 times n can make him ALIVE 17 times or however ALLAH wants to punish such TERRORIST....
      I hope u got the SIMPLE LOGIC...

      March 31, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. laila

    only in America , a college roomate gets 10 yrs sentence for taping a gay guy making out..but killers such as kayce anothny, Oj and now this guy who killed babies and he even admiited it doing it, goes free bc there is no evidence to prove? It shows that in america as long as u have money and hire a rich lawyer u can get away with murder.

    March 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • jboHDrider

      Seriously-Bales is not free he is in Ft Leavonworth...A maximum security federal prison. Try to keep up would you?

      March 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |

      Bailes is a victim of medical services for veterans. Sent back to battle with medicine when he should have been retired because of being blown up by shell shock . What more evidence do they need to let him alone Instead they want now to execute him so he will be forgotten. If USA leaves now they will prevent another Bailes as I am sure they are putting defective soldiers back in battle. There is no commons sense with this failed military policy and to continue is like Vietnam. It looks like Generals Schools need to be accredited and the Generals given IQ tests

      March 30, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Amanda

    i think it is only fair he be prosecuted over there in Afghanistan because if the shoe were on the other foot and it happened here we would want justice for OUR PEOPLE HERE...

    March 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • jboHDrider

      We can't have foriegn nationals prosocuting soldiers. If we allow that to happen then they can simply arrest any soldier they want at any time they want on any charge that they want. The US Military will prosecute him and he will not have a fun life.

      March 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. neonangel1

    What bothers me is that we may have a serial killer wearing a U.S. uniform. We assume every soldier is out there to do good. Maybe some soldiers just wonder what it feels like to kill someone.

    March 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Drowlord

      I don't think this guy qualifies. Serial killers are very different, notably killing stealthily in a specific pattern, doing multiple murders over a period of months with cool-off periods between kills, and motivated primarily by a hunger for killing. This guy just flipped out and committed a spree killing.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joanne

    I agree with neonangel1 that Sgt. Bales could be a serial killer, in a U. S. uniform,it's a terrible thought, but not out, of the realm, of probability. Likewise I feel nauseous, when I hear every soldier referred to as a Hero, who has ever served, in these wars, for if every soldier is considered a hero, then the term hero is meaningless.

    March 30, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • jboHDrider

      Not really. NOt when you consider that less than 5% of the population serves and almost all of them go to a war zone where they are sure to be shot at...Pretty much more heroic then the 95% that never serves, leaving 95% of the populace that are not heros...

      March 30, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Alger Dave

    It's hard to envision an outcome where the Taliban and AlQaida don't return to Afghanistan after we leave. I don't believe anyone seriously believes that will happen. In that case, shouldn't we just cut our losses and leave. No one, now not even the Afghans, want us there anymore. It's become just like Iraq at the end, except in Afghanistan the outcome now looks very grim once we pull out. Iraq is doing OK without us, Afghanistan will not. Let's cut our losses and keep flying our drones to keep the Taliban and Al Queda at least on their toes. It's worked in Pakistan.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Joanne

    To be shot at, in a war zone does not make one a hero.likewise the individuals , who are serving now volunteered for military service, they weren't drafted, as there is no draft and if these soldiers don't want to serve they can quit when there contract is up. It's unfortunate that many in the military think they are keeping America safe, for democracy, but what they are really doing is fulfilling the Neo-con doctrine, of nation building, and controlling the flow, of oil.Only some one, with an uncritical mind can think that invading a third world country, a country that never bombed, or invaded the U.S. is somehow a good thing, and somehow is making the U.S. safer, only someone with, an uncritical mind can state that the only way one can serve their country is through the military. There is nothing heroic, in killing innocent civilians, while they sleep.

    March 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Keep complaining about oil and then get in your car and drive to your cubicle bubble. I bet you think your a vegan to. We all support the war machine evertime we push the gas pedal quit complaining and change it then.

      March 31, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
  8. Angel

    Why this soldier is not given to Afghan authorities to be prosecuted? The people who kill americans IN AMERICAN SOIL during 9/11 were prosecuted or killed by the US. Now we have an american who killed Afghans IN AFGHANISTAN SOIL. Why the US have to make the prosecution too?

    March 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |

      Generals are responsible for what Bailes did

      March 30, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |

    CIA responsible for killing Taliban

    March 30, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. MacMarine1969

    you can blame Bush and Obama for allowing military personnel to do tour after tour. neither one have leadership capibilities.

    March 31, 2012 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
  11. MacMarine1969

    also you have to remember that a book of Koran was accidentally burned and some American lives were needlessly lost, from a former infantry mans point of view it's called payback!

    March 31, 2012 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Muhammad Maqsud

      Yeah.... Lets bring DESTRUCTION for fulfilling our SATISFACTION... Hiiii HAHH(like martial art)!!!

      March 31, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. hound

    So , yet another defeat for the U.S.The yanks, as empty as their craniums are, never learn lessons for history.No one has ever won over the Afghans, not Russia, never the US.The warlords, will encircle, trap, deceive and take lives of your protein fed milk boys.You can engineer a thermite destruction of a building, but universal laws of natural selection will be spot on.Afghans are born to fight, you are born to steal.Its their game, and they will be finishing it.

    March 31, 2012 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  13. adam

    The motive for killing most likely was a bet between him and another person on that base. Most likely he had to proof to the other person that he did reach a certain distance, or he did enter a certain area and when the other person did not believe him, then he had to give him a proof and the proof was the killing. cold blood crime end of story.

    March 31, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ansar

    March 31, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. OnTheRoad

    If he does not understand, then he won't understand when they execute him for murder! So, get it over with! Same thing with the Major down at Ft. Hood! Hang them side by side, at the same time, place!

    March 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • squawks

      Obviously, you cannot tell the difference between the two scenarios.

      April 2, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8