DOD’s Non-Denial Denial Suggests They May Consider Some Panjwai Dead Legitimate Targets

As I noted in this post, there is a discrepancy between the people Sergeant Robert Bales is accused of murdering and the people Afghans report to be victims. While DOD has redacted the names of Bales’ alleged victims, at least two women and one man are on that list but not among those named by Afghans. Which means that at least two men were killed that DOD does not, now, consider murder victims.

DOD spokesperson Commander Bill Speaks gave this non-denial denial when I asked whether that meant there were 20 victims (I followed up but have gotten no response yet):

The evidence available to the investigation team indicates 17 murder victims, as is outlined in the charge sheet. To suggest that Gen. Allen’s answers yesterday would be “consistent” with more victims ignores the fact that the questions posed to him were in the context of 17 rather than 16 victims.

Now apparently Speaks thinks I’m dumb. He suggests I ignored the journalists’ question, when Allen did so.

There is a — there was an increase in the number of what we believe to have been those who were killed tragically in this event. But this is — the number increased was based upon the initial reporting by the Afghans.  And so we should not be surprised that in fact, as the investigation went forward, that an — that an additional number was added to that.

Speaks suggests that Allen’s equivocation–his description of those “who were killed tragically” as opposed to those who died, his careful avoidance of any numbers, and his discussion of “an additional number,” which would seem to suggest more than one additional victim (consistent with the potentially 3 included in the charge sheet not described by Afghans)–directly answered the journalists’ question, when in fact all it did is suggest the numbers might continue to grow.

Further, Speaks, like Allen, appears to be parsing murder victims as opposed to total dead.

All of which leads me to further refine my speculation: I suspect the night of the murders started with a night raid launched in retaliation for the IED strike earlier in the week, during which at least two men considered to be legitimate targets were killed. But that along with those “legitimate” deaths–perhaps because the male head of family targets were not home during the raid (both Mohammed Wazir and Syed Jaan were out of the village during the attack)–a bunch of women and kids got killed as well.

Such an explanation would explain many of the seeming discrepancies in the story. It would account for the claims that at least 12 men were involved in the raid, used walkie talkies, and had helicopters. It would account for the stories that in a few cases, just one male was killed and women and children were left, as would happen in a night raid “properly” conducted. It would also explain why Bales made two trips off the base–perhaps the first time as part of the raid, and the second time to try to cover up, by burning, the illegal victims that resulted.

And it would explain both why Afghans made assertive requests about SOFA and why DOD is being so touchy right now. The US can’t really stay in Afghanistan if it can’t conduct night raids; otherwise, the local knowledge of Afghans would more than negate the advantage of our superior technology.Yet, this incident happened just after Karzai had already accelerated the prison transfer and was pushing back on night raids.

It is bad enough that an American solider is alleged to have gone a rampage killing 17 civilians. But if he did so as part of a night raid, it will give Afghans precisely the justification they need to prohibit any more night raids.

Which is why the government is trying so hard to pin this attack on Bales’ personal failings rather than our war’s.

Update: OK, I’m getting closer to a clear answer. In response to this question,

1) Are there are just 17 known murder victims, total?

2) Are there just 17 Afghans killed in the villages that night–whether by murder or other legal status, such as legitimate military target–total?

Speaks gave this answer:

1) Yes

2) I’m not aware of any military engagements in the vicinity of the alleged murders involving US or other coalition forces, but will verify with ISAF.

Somewhere–I’ll have to find it–Kabul-based reporting said that night raids are not always reported up the chain of command (I believe it was an ISAF based spokesperson saying they might not know if there were a raid, generally).

Update: See this post for an update from Speaks. The short answer? DOD says there were no military operations in the villages that night.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

55 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    @EH: Who? Allen or Speaks?

    I think they’re both very well-spoken.

    When they’re not nervously trying to cover something up.

  2. John B. (another) says:

    wow, that is fantastic reporting EW and it makes a heckuva lot more sense…damn…

  3. emptywheel says:

    @Frank33: Oh, if I’m right I don’t think it is InfoOps per se. Just badly executed press strategy, to do a slow reveal of facts they undoubtedly already know.

  4. orionATL says:

    what i like about this version of events is that it is like a newly validated theory in science – suddenly pieces of information that could not be connected together now can be.

    this may explain:

    – why bales left the fort twice that night. one would have been to support (or participate) in a night-raid. so far we have only been told he left not that he left alone.

    – why there was no alarm at the base from bales’ gunshots and no subsequent foray into the village

    – why there was no resistance to bales. the afghans assumed a second raid and responded by not resisting

    – why one of the afghani’s who had left home that day returned to find his family murdered (he may have been a raid target whose family was killed in his stead)

    – why afghans insisted there was more than one soldier.

    – why the afghan investigating team arrived and found themselves being stone-walled

    apart from the disastrous political repercussions,

    this matter raises some serious questions about our soldiers’ conduct in a “pacified” village :

    can we enter people’s homes and execute suspects (i’m talking about soldiers other than bales). this was not a battlefield.

    were some of the victims stand-ins for a missing family member suspect

    why bales’visit to two villages – he must have been looking for someone

    were some or all killed to get rid of witnesses

    why were some bodies burned

    just off the top of my head.

  5. Frank33 says:

    I am swiping “InfoOps”, unless you have the CopyRight or CopyLeft.

    And please have sympathy for the Press Agents in the Dept of InfoOps. Your sleuthing and remarkable Posts keep them awake late at night I am guessing.

  6. orionATL says:

    we would need to know the connections to the ied blast or to the taliban to answer this question,

    but it is not inconceivable to me that all those killed were killed for either their’s or a family member’s connection to the ied explosion or to taliban.

    if bales’ gets a light sentence, one suspicion would be that he volunteered to take responsibility for something other than a one-man murder spree.

  7. The New Madrid Fault says:

    A US Federal District judge dismissed the most serious charges Tuesday against seven members of the Hutaree militia who were rounded up as homegrown extremists accused of plotting war against the US, saying their expressed hatred of law enforcement didn’t amount to conspiracy against the government.

    The decision is an embarrassment for the government, which secretly planted an informant and an FBI agent inside the Hutaree militia four years ago and claimed members were armed for war.

    US District Judge Victoria Roberts granted requests for acquittal on the most serious charges: conspiring to commit sedition, or rebellion, against the US and conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. Other weapons crimes tied to the alleged conspiracies also were dismissed.

    “There are very few judges that have this kind of courage,” defense lawyer Michael Rataj said.

  8. orionATL says:

    more guessing games:

    – were the soldiers conducting the night-raid from the base or elsewhere

    – could bales have decided to go out on his own night raid having learned that the raiders had missed one or more of their targets

    – if bales went with a team, and if he had been drinking, why would any officer or nco have allowed him to participate.

  9. orionATL says:


    i echo harpie’s point. it seems very consequential here

    – certainly with respect to any night-raid’s killings

    – possibly, if bales’ confession were part of a cover-up.

  10. Wapiti says:

    Or Bales went out with the Special Ops team on the first/official raid; they happen to kill a bunch of women and children and aren’t particularly bothered about it, “shit happens”. Bales is horrified, wants to clean it up or confess or something, anything. SF crew say, “ok, you feel guilty, go clean up and then confess. We’re not going to and will deny having any part of it.”

    Bales gets pushed out and the ranks close behind him.

    iirc, the Tillman case broke after a long time, because (a few) Rangers weren’t willing to continue to lie to their own. I’m not sure Special Ops would have the same problem using a non-Spec Ops soldier as cover.

  11. emptywheel says:

    @orionATL: One thought I had is if his team member was the one who lost the leg, the Special Forces guys might have let him come on the mission.

  12. emptywheel says:

    @harpie: Thanks, and I echo those who are glad to see you around.

    Right, a war crime. Which is why it’d be in DOD’s interest to make it out to be one soldier who should have been diagnosed w/PTSD.

  13. emptywheel says:

    Update: Speaks still thinks I’m dumb. In his latest response to me he suggested I was suggesting there was another incident, a story he totally invented.

  14. orionATL says:

    at first i was rather surprised about how much the military was telling us about bales. now i’m thinking they may have been developing and slowly leaking a plausible cover story featuring bales.

    – the villagers said the soldier (i thought the reports said “soldiers”) had been drinking.

    not long after, the military volunteers that bales had been drinking that night with two other soldiers. they didn’t have to reveal this nor with this specific detail.

    – military volunteers that bales was having marital problems and financial problems. the former may not have been true.

    – military volunteers bales was “observed” leaving the post twice.

    – military volunteers bales had night vision goggles.

    – military volunteers bales returned to the fort the second time with an ak-47 hidden under an afghani shawl.

  15. emptywheel says:

    @orionATL: Military didn’t volunteer that he left twice. It was covered in several different reports (and I hit on it): between three different Afghan guards (apparently), one said he left twice, the others (on two different shifts) describe him separately as having left during their shift.

    I’m not sure if those guards had leaked the information–no doubt at significant risk to their jobs and lives–that info would have come out.

  16. emptywheel says:

    OK, I’ve gotten most of an answer from DOD (as noted in the post): 17 and only 17 murder victims, the Pentagon is unaware of any military engagement that night, but they will need to check w/ISAF.

  17. orionATL says:



    to be frank, i’m not all that certain about the accuracy of anything i said, but wanted to sketch out what the possibility of a “developing alibi” might look like.

  18. MadDog says:

    I’m still in the corner of the “long gunman” theory, but I will say that EW in this post, and in the previous and with EW’s comments there, raised some interesting, and at this point, still unanswered issues.

    For example:

    “…I think this because the big chunk of women in a row almost has to be Wazir’s family. But also because that’s the killing that would have been hardest to accomplish alone: there were 11 people (including 2 adult males and 3 fighting age teens) spread out over 3 rooms. Wazir says he thinks the women died first. I find it inconceivable there was no gun, and that he could kill all 7 women without a response from any of the men…”

    I agree that the lack of response from any of the MAMs (military aged males) in the Wazir household is an unexplained issue. Whether that was because there were multiple US soldiers in the Wazir home doing the killing or other simpler explanations (I’ll suggest one below), the fact remains that at this point, we don’t have an explanation.

    As I said, I’ll offer a simpler explanation, but agree beforehand that it is only my guesswork and has no confirmation from any reporting or investigation forensics thus far.

    The simple explanation:

    1) It’s the middle of the night and everybody is asleep in the Wazir household.

    2) Bales (and/or multiple US soldiers) storm in, and within seconds, begins to kill the Wazir household civilians.

    3) The Wazir mudbrick home is so poor that they use a piece of cloth as a “door” in the entrance of the home. I would suggest that this means there are probably no windows in the home because that would allow in the cold in winter and heat in the summer. Having no windows also means that there was no way to escape out of a window.

    I would also suggest that there may have been no 2nd exit available in the Wazir home, or that if there was, an armed Bales (and/or multiple US soldiers) was able to cover it with his weapon as he began to kill the Wazir home inhabitants.

    I would also suggest that there were no means of other exit from the 3 killing rooms. No windows, and the only doorway of these rooms connected only to the main room where Bales (and/or multiple US soldiers) stood.

    4) The Wazir MAMs (again, military aged males who one would have thought would be able to offer some type of resistance to Bales (and/or multiple US soldiers)) were unarmed at the time they were killed because either they had no weapons, or they were unable to get to their weapons.

    If they had no weapons, end of discussion. If they did have weapons, but were unable to get to them, again end of discussion. Considering the Wazir family’s poverty, it may be that they were too poor to afford weapons. In either case, there is no reporting as of yet that Bales (and/or multiple US soldiers) faced any armed resistance.

    There should have been, and may well be, forensic evidence of US shell casings from the massacre. There were videos from the MSM in the aftermath of the massacre showing individuals wearing latex gloves picking up shell cases from one of the killing sites and placing the shell cases into plastic baggies. The videos never really identified who these individuals were, but I was under the impression they were Afghan forces rather than US forces.

    The forensic examination of these collected shell cases should definitively identify whether they came from weapons that Bales had when he surrendered to his US colleagues, or whether they came from multiple other weapons.

    If these were indeed Afghan forces who recovered the shell cases as seen in the videos, I wonder whether they’ve been turned over to the US as part of its investigation.

    Lastly, regarding the various Afghan villager reports from early after the massacre, I would throw out these ideas:

    a) The Afghan villager reports of multiple US soldiers may have been as a result of the US search party that the US sent out after Bales was identified as missing in a Camp Belambay headcount.

    b) The Afghan villager reports of helicopters may also have been as a result of that US search party.

  19. orionATL says:


    nice summary of a position.

    some questions (that i don’t have the answer to; i’m nal :>) )

    – did the villagers report that the helicopter, etc. came after the killings

    – are there helicopters at this base

    – is there confirmation that a)there was a headcount and b) a search party was sent out to find bales

  20. MadDog says:

    @orionATL: I’m just going by the MSM news reports I’ve watched and read, so take it all with a grain of salt:

    – did the villagers report that the helicopter, etc. came after the killing

    That is the question I have as well. The take I came away with is that there is some confusion regarding these initial reports. As in, were these folks in any way eyewitnesses to the killings, or were they after-the-fact lookyloos who added 2+2 and came up with 6.

    – are there helicopters at this base

    My understanding is that FOB Camp Belambay is nothing more than a small outpost and would have no resident air assets itself, but that there is a larger US base relatively nearby.

    – is there confirmation that a)there was a headcount and b) a search party was sent out to find bales

    This CNN news report (as footnote 47 in the Kandahar Massacre Wiki entry) has the following from page 2:

    “…A third ISAF official said Afghan troops spotted the soldier leaving his combat outpost around 3 a.m. Sunday and notified their American counterparts. The U.S. military did an immediate headcount, found the soldier was missing and dispatched a patrol to go look for him, the official said…”

  21. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: Another CNN article has ISAF Commander General Allen “confirming” the search party info:

    “…An Afghan soldier at Belambay spotted a soldier going out around 3 a.m., past the blast barriers, and notified U.S. commanders.

    The commanders immediately ordered a head count, as the military always does. They confirmed a soldier was missing and assembled a search party right away, according to Gen. John Allen, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

    “It was as that search party was forming that we began to have indications of the outcome of his departure,” Allen said…”

  22. MadDog says:

    Though for some reason the post that is the subject of my comment here has disappeared, the cached version is available. The post I’m referring to is this:

    Gary Moore’s post entitled: Atrocity and Instant Information

    Lot’s of effort made to collect and address the information about the massacre. I recommend it.

  23. orionATL says:


    not that any of us would know, but i wonder, if bales went out twice, was the afghan guard’s 3 a.m. report a report of bales second excursion (if there was a second)?

    if so, what about the first? did it go “reported and ignored” or “unreported”?

  24. ryan says:

    The initial NY Times article:

    has residents saying that ‘he tried door after door eventually breaking in to kill within three separate houses’. (the quotes are where I use NY Times verbiage – I’m not intending to say this is a direct quote from villagers.) This makes it sound less like a night raid or a return raid with very specific targets.

    This may not be accurate. Just pointing it out as a bit of evidence running slightly counter to theories here, or at least to some of the specific scenarios.

  25. orionATL says:


    thanks. i took a look and scanned for a few seconds, but have not read, though i most certainly will.

    however this paragraph leaped to my attention and perfectly describes the situation an ordinary “concerned citizen” faces:

    “… This is a strange dilemma, unknown a few decades ago. We face a glut of raw clues without a central clearinghouse of verification–positioning the intrepid (or foolhardy) consumer as a Sherlock Holmes, tasked with culling Moriarty’s illusions, eyeballing that smudge of footprint on the carpet, deciphering the gobbledygook of names–and coming up with an informed deduction…”

    that’s why god felt the need to create the internet and then, having done so, to create “emptywheel”, glenn greenwald, “naked capitalism”, brad delong, “fdl” w/jane hamsher and david dayen, harper’s magazine w/scott horton, and a host of other interpreters of institutional – gov’t and corporate – fact and fiction :>)

  26. MadDog says:

    @orionATL: That’s still one of my top questions.

    How can it be that some unknown party was able to sneakily enter and leave Camp Belambay? That defies the imagination!

    This is a remote outpost located in the middle of bandit country in the middle of the night, and no one raised the alarm about a perimeter security breach?

    Yes, there were Afghan guards on sentry duty, but where were the corresponding American soldiers on sentry duty? Or do they just blindly assume they are safe with Afghan guards? I find that almost impossible to believe.

    One of the very first things that is pounded into a person on Day 1 of bootcamp, and you are required to memorize it before anything else, are the General Orders.

    Here’s the first couple from the Navy and Marine Corp version:

    1) To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
    2) To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.

    Here’s the first one of the Army version:

    1. I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.

    And let me tell all who’ve never been in the military: The military takes these orders as seriously as you could possibly believe!

    Again, how is it that no alarm was raised by an unknown party breaching Camp Belambay’s perimeter security?

    Additionally, what about that “persistent surveillance” video for perimeter security? Who was watching, or not watching as the case appears to be? What kind of security is that?

  27. orionATL says:



    that kind of evidence is very important.

    i recall that passage, now that you bring it to mind.

    in the face of that recounting, it’s pretty hard to maintain anything other than a drunken rage in that place at that time,

    that may well be where things will end up – grassy knolls are o.k. for speculation in some interim.

    right now, though, i think we are still in the grassy-knoll stage.

  28. orionATL says:


    i like this quote very much. as an instruction and an inculcation it feels just right; there’s got to be centuries of military history and experience behind it:

    “… from the Navy and Marine Corp version:

    1) To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
    2) To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.

    Here’s the first one of the Army version:

    1. I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved…”

  29. MadDog says:

    For folks who want to view a bunch of pics of the ISAF operating in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan where this massacre took place, check ’em out here.

  30. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: Since there are a lot of pictures, I wanted to make note of Picture 25 showing a huge field of marijuana plants and Picture 27 showing a large poppy field in this Panjwai district of Afghanistan where this massacre took place.

  31. ryan says:

    It’s also worth considering there were five wounded, which sounds less like the actions of a methodical operation in which participant(s) had complete control of the field. Abdul Hadi said his door was broken in.

    This could still be consistent with a drunken Bales returning after a first mission, or with something. Again, just pointing to some things worth considering.

    There’s also this from Salon, which among other interesting things (reporting on efforts to speak to villagers) says the US has prevented Afghan journalists from speaking with the (five, in this version) wounded, who are being treated at a US base.

  32. ryan says:

    The salon piece also has a diagram of the villages (not a map – look to see what I mean.

    Some reports mention Balandi and Alokzai. The diagram, and some other reports, mention Alokzai (or Alkozai, but I think that’s a typo) and Najiban. Many reports said 500 meters, though this diagram seems to show the whole thing as a 3-mile walk.

    Regardless, it’s hard to see how a military camp even a mile away wouldn’t notice 16 shots in the quiet Afghan night.

    I note that the camp’s name, Balambay or Balambi, is pretty close to Balandi. Is that part of the confusion? Other reports say the camp is in or near Zangabad.

  33. ryan says:

    Thanks for that long page of pictures. What do you fire a howitzer for in this kind of war? The pic that will stay with me is of that Canadian soldier on his knee in front of the two girls, his gun lowered, but not entirely. They look like they’re from different planets. The girls look more like from my planet than the soldier.

    And the mud walls.

  34. orionATL says:


    thanks again for providing a fresh perspective and some info i had not heard about, e.g., the broken door, and the wounded, aka survivors. i personally did not know anyone had survived.

  35. ryan says:

    It’s hard to place Jan Agha’s account from this BBC story:

    He says his father, mother, brother and sister were killed. That doesn’t fit well with either the Samad family nor with the account of Alkozai, where others say the victims were two people in one home and a single neighbor at each of two other homes. I guess it’s possible that Jan Agha could be describing Alkozai, but other accounts didn’t mention that all 4 were related.

    He also could be dramatizing for the press, or just mistranslated. Several of the other accounts I’ve seen mention a relative speaking with Karzai as a way of verifying that Afghans believe the account.

  36. orionATL says:

    ryan reports five wounded via salon/global post.

    how are wounded evacuated in warfields? by helicopter.

    that may be one mystery solved – the helic (and soldier) villagers reported seeing was involved in an after-the-factsearch/rescue.

    multiple soldiers? maybe the search team, looking for bales and being pointed to bodies by villagers both frightened and puzzled.

    but the puzzle of bales double foray, assuming it happened, which i am perfectly willing to assume, eludes me.

  37. lefty665 says:


    “…which i am perfectly willing to assume, eludes me.”

    So much does.

    Give it a rest before the narcs have cause to bust your meth cooker.

  38. ryanwc says:

    Still trying to think about this. Here’s a graph from a Reuters piece:

    “We were shown a video in which a soldier climbs the wall of a military base and then goes indoors and pulls his bulletproof jacket off and then puts his arms up to surrender himself,” Lalai said.

    This despite other reports that the search team found him. I had tried to reconcile these accounts in my mind, thinking he’d surrendered to the search team, but now they’ve got the surrender inside the base. I’m not sure what to make of the conflicting accounts.

    There’s also this version:
    The United States has not confirmed it showed the video to Afghans, though a U.S. official has said footage taken by an “aerial asset” shows the soldier lying on the ground outside the base and then attempting to “low crawl” back into the outpost. has some interesting lines of speculation.

  39. Bob Schacht says:

    EW, I’m at a conference in Baltimore, and am having a hard time keeping up with all the posts and comments, but I like your “speculation.” I’ve been thinking along similar lines.

    Bob in AZ

  40. Paul Webb says:

    This looks like a night raid gone wrong, and in view of the political situation, cover up was ordered.

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