Afghan Killings By US Soldier: Another My Lai?

U.S. army staff sergeant Robert Bales, who is the suspect in the killing of 16 Afghans including nine children, is now in the US and being held in an isolated cell in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. NPR reports that Bales was to meet with his lawyer, defense attorney John Henry Browne, for the first time today.

The New York Times has a lenghy account including interviews with childhood friends of the 38-year-old soldier. He is described as a “well-regarded young man who seemed to try to do the right thing,” a high school linebacker who “was gracious enough” to let another, more talented player take his position. Sergeant Bales attended college but did not graduate with a degree and joined the army after September 11, 2001. He was deployed three times in Iraq and saw heavy fighting, and suffered a head wound and lost part of one foot. His lawyer and military officials have said that Sergeant Bales was treated for mild traumatic brain injury and may have developed post-traumatic stress disorder. He had been arrested on a misdemeanor charge of assault on a woman and been in an accident in which his car overturned. While he had trained as a recruiter, a position that would have enabled him not to be deployed to Afghanistan, the army kept him in the infantry.

Accounts from lawyers, medical professionals, colleagues and friends have offered “competing accounts” about his marriage. Sergeant Bales’ wife, Karilyn Primeau, reportedly wrote on her blog about his disappointment at being rejected for a promotion to sergeant first class and about his being “not happy” about being deployed to Afghanistan. The sergeant had reportedly been drinking prior to leaving his base in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province, described as a “hotbed of Taliban activity” for years that had recently become more secure.

Were the killings that Sergeant Bales accused of the result of his repeated deployments? Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired brigadier general who was an adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, makes the point that Sergeant Bales’s case is “emblematic” of some “bigger problems,” namely:

…an overstretched military battered by 11 years of combat; failures by the military to properly identify and treat its weary, suffering troops; and the thin line dividing “normal” behavior in war from what later is deemed “snapping.”

“This is equivalent to what My Lai did to reveal all the problems with the conduct of the Vietnam War,” Dr. Xenakis said. “The Army will want to say that soldiers who commit crimes are rogues, that they are individual, isolated cases. But they are not.”

As Tom Bowman said on NPR’s Morning Edition, ”What we’re seeing so far is really a very contradictory picture. A guy who seemed to be a solid soldier, but definitely under some stress.” The Washington Post also suggests that financial struggles were weighing Bales down.

But The Atlantic Wire suggests that the media is reading too much into the details of Bales’s life that have so far surfaced. Kari Primeau blogged about “missing her husband and wanting to have more control over where she lived — some of the most common complaints of Army wives.” Soldiers who are deployed overseas don’t make less but, says The Atlantic Wire, “get extra money — combat pay and separation pay — plus their salaries aren’t taxed, and the soldier has zero expenses — food, housing, clothing are all taken care of.” Media scrutiny over Bales’s life has only “offered a general picture of military life” but sought to say that such is the “environment that created a monster.”

The tragic killings that Bales is accused of happened less than two weeks ago and it is certainly too early to pass any sort of judgement and to have any sort of clarity about what happened. But the larger issues raised by Dr. Xenakis do bear at least considering, especially as the US faces deep strains in its relationship with Afghanistan in the wake of the shootings and other recent incidents involving US troops, and the US insists that it will stick to its schedule of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

What do you think about Dr. Xenakis’ statement that, while “the Army will want to say that soldiers who commit crimes are rogues” and “individual, isolated cases,” this not at all the case?

Related Care2 Coverage

Afghan Suspect’s Lawyer: Trauma, Brain Injury, 4 Deployments

Karzai: “Poor” Cooperation From US About Killings

Panetta: Death Penalty Possible For Soldier in Afghan Massacre

Photo by 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team


lis Gunn
lis Gunn5 years ago

Colum N.
You've missed out quite a few atrocities committed by the US military but this is a good start.
In terms of history, it should also be noted that Joe Kennedy, father of JFK was the US ambassador to the Court of St. James but was sent home because of his Nazi sympathies. Sure it was before the US joined the war but I haven't heard that he was otherwise condemned.

lis Gunn
lis Gunn5 years ago

The New York Times has also reported that US troops will escape punishment over the deadly airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November, 2011. Seems that the Military can do what it likes.
Thank you to all those who have commented on the war acts that the US military has caused. And justice is meted out to the vanquished, not the invader. Cynical I may be but I am so disgusted that excuses are now being made for Sergeant Bales. What do soldiers think they are doing when they join and go into other countries. Do they think they are going on a picnic, a camping expedition or what? It appears that there has already been a grand jury hearing in the case of Julian Assange to have him extradited from Sweden (if or when he gets to Sweden) so that he can be indicted in the US. For what? Revealing the embarrassing details of intelligence shortcomings and lethal events outside of the States.
And please, remember My Lai and Lieutenant Calley. He served 10 odd months of house arrest for his Vietnamese massacre.
And if they do anything wrong, they don't have to face the local legal system

Colum N.
Colum N5 years ago

America is a killing machine and should NOT be in afghanistan killing innocent people ffs.
America has already killed 1.5 million people in iraq alone.

1940s - nuked Japan.
Death toll: 145,000 to date in Nagasaki, 250,000 in Hiroshima

1947-49 - U.S. helps command extreme-right Greece party in Civil War.
Death toll: about 70,000 contributed by US-backed forces

1948-54 - CIA directs war against Huk Rebellion in Philippines.
Death toll: about 11,000

1950 - Independence movement crushed in Ponce, Puerto Rico
Death toll: conservative historians estimated about 8,000 peasants

1950-53 - Korean War
Death toll: about 1,776,000

1952 - CIA overthrows Democracy in Iran, installs Shah
Death toll: about 20,000

1954 - CIA directs invasion of Guatemala after new Democracy there nationalized U.S.-occupied lands
Death toll: about 140,000 missing and dead

1958 - In Lebanon, marine occupation against rebels
Death toll: about 2,000

1960-75 - Vietnam War including Cambodia and Laos
Death toll: about 4,502,000 including civilians and resulting famines (conservative estimates)

1961 - Cuba's Bay of Pigs Invasion fails
Death toll: about 4,000

1963 - In Iraq, CIA organizes coup against President and agrees to back formerly exiled Saddam
Death toll: about 7,000 including civilians

1964 - In Panama, troops kill protesters against US-owned canal
Death toll: about 1,000

1965 - CIA assists Indonesian coup
Death toll: about 900,000

1966 - Troops and bo

Sian R.
Sian R5 years ago

I am curious. How many people who have posted here excusing the actions of this(these?) soldier/s have also vented their rage on the killer in Toulouse?
None - I hope.

John Duqesa
Past Member 5 years ago

Sabine P

I've been making this point since these disgusting threads trying to excuse this pos started. It is abundantly clear that this one grunt did not act alone. The truth now is coming out.

Sabine P.
Sabine B5 years ago

Jamie,you nailed it! The official story makes no sense.By the way,several news oulets and the Afghan government are talking of up to twenty soldiers and thge raping of several women that preceded the killing: rad here

dawn walker
Dawn W5 years ago

I said this on another article but it bears repeating: He was deployed 4 times,even after sustaining a BRAIN INJURY during one deployment. Draw your own conclusion.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton5 years ago

Stop pointing fingers at this poor soldier! Our government TRAINED HIM TO KILL!!!! They put him under so much PRESSURE he SNAPPED!!!! Every human being has a BREAKING POINT!!! Ask any MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL!!!! Is anybody asking WHY the MAJORITY of our soldiers are coming back from war with POST TRAUMATIC STRESS SYNDROME? Our children are TAUGHT, "THOU SHALL NOT KILL"!!!!! THEN THEY ARE SENT TO SOME HELL HOLE AND TOLD TO KILL, KILL, KILL!!!! Does anybody see who this could CAUSE PROBLEMS?????? Obviously it DOES!!! It's HUMANLY IMPOSSIBLE
to BE TOUGH AND SUCK IT UP FOREVER!!!! People have a BREAKING POINT!!!! This soldier went back again and again and DID A SUPERLATIVE JOB. THEN HE SNAPPED!!!

Jane Barton
Jane Barton5 years ago

The Muslims are victims AND our soldiers are victims. It's our GOVERNMENT who is VICTIMIZING EVERYBODY! There is no reason on EARTH for our CHILDREN TO BE IN AFGHANISTAN! BRING OUR CHILDREN HOME AND LEAVE THOSE POOR MUSLIMS ALONE! Those people never did ANYTHING TO US! STOP WAR NOW!

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons5 years ago

Why was this person allowed to leave the base in the middle of the night alone? Didn't he have to have leave permission to leave his post? Would he be allowed to go out alone in the middle of a conflict? Who else was involved and what else are they covering up?