Bales to meet with lawyer today
With formal charges looming against his client within days, the lawyer for an Army sergeant suspected in the horrific nighttime slaughter of 16 Afghan villagers was flying Sunday to Kansas and preparing for his first face-to-face meeting with the 10-year veteran.
John Henry Browne of Seattle said he planned to meet today with Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who is being held in an isolated cell at Fort Leavenworth’s military prison.
Bales, 38, hasn’t been charged in the March 11 shootings, which have endangered relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan and threaten to upend U.S. policy over the decade-old war. But formal charges are expected to be filed within a week, and if the case goes to court the trial will be held in the United States, said a legal expert with the U.S. military familiar with the investigation.
That expert said that charges were still being decided and that the location for any trial had not yet been determined. If the suspect is brought to trial, it is possible that Afghan witnesses and victims would be flown to the United States to participate, he said.
Seattle He is accused of the kind of crime that makes people shiver, the killing of families in their own homes under cover of night, the butchery of defenseless children. Under normal circumstances, Americans would dismiss such an act as worthy of only one response: swift and merciless punishment.
Not so in the case of Robert Bales — at least, not for some Americans.
So far, many seem willing to believe that a 10-year U.S. military veteran, worn down by four tours of combat and perhaps suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, simply snapped. That somehow there must be, if not an excuse, at least an explanation.
Exactly what set off the Army sergeant accused of massacring 16 civilians in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province is far from clear. But already, organizations and individuals with differing agendas have portrayed Bales as the personification of something that is profoundly broken, and have seized on his case to question the war itself or to argue that the American government is asking too much of its warriors.
‘A turning point’?
On the website of Iraq Veterans Against the War, organizer Aaron Hughes declared that Afghan war veterans “believe that this incident is not a case of one ‘bad apple’ but the effect of a continued U.S. military policy of drone strikes, night raids, and helicopter attacks where Afghan civilians pay the price.” Those veterans, he wrote, “hope that the Kandahar massacre will be a turning point” in the war.
“Send a letter to the editor of your local paper condemning the massacre and calling for an end to our occupation in Afghanistan,” Hughes wrote.
On March 11, authorities say, Bales, a 38-year-old married father of two from Washington state, stalked through two villages, gunned down civilians and attempted to burn some of the bodies. The dead included nine children.
In Lake Tapps, Wash., neighbors knew Bales as a patriot, a friendly guy who loved his wife and kids, and a man who never complained about the sacrifices his country repeatedly asked of him. They find it hard to believe he could be capable of such depravity.
“I kind of sympathize for him, being gone, being sent over there four times,” said Beau Britt, who lives across the street. “I can understand he’s probably quite racked mentally, so I just hope that things are justified in court. I hope it goes OK.”
Paul Wohlberg, who lives next door to the Baleses, said: “I just can’t believe Bob’s the guy who did this. A good guy got put in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Talk like that infuriates Fred Wellman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel from Fredericksburg, Va., who did three tours in Iraq. He said comments like those of Bales’ neighbors and his attorney simply feed into the notion of “the broken veteran.”
Wellman does not deny that 10 years of war have severely strained the service. But while others might see Bales as a wounded soul, Wellman sees a man who sneaked off base to commit his alleged crimes, then had the presence of mind to “lawyer up” as soon as he was caught.
“That may play well with certain circles of the civilian community, which doesn’t understand our lives,” Wellman said. “But he’s going to be tried by a military court ... and chances are three or four of those guys had things happen to them, may have had three or four tours, may have lost people, may have been blown up. And NONE of them snapped and killed 16 people.” He added: “It’s just too easy, and a lot of us, we’re not buying it.”