US Source Contradicts CNN’s Reporting in Anonymous Leaks to CNN

Yesterday, CNN released detailed onsite reporting from Yalda Hakim from the massacre site in Panjwai. (h/t SH) Today, CNN posted a follow-up interview–accompanied by a story based largely on comments from an anonymous US official. It’s the latter story that Jim wrote about here, noting that:

  • Robert Bales was assigned to guard duty the night of the attack
  • The US has not had access to the sites of the massacre and therefore they have not been treated as a crime scene
  • Bales was spotted by an Afghan guard leaving the first time around 1, and not seen on return; he reportedly spent 30 minutes on base and told his roommate he had been shooting Afghans; a second Afghan guard spotted him leaving so alerted the Americans; in response they started the search party to look for him; they found him returning at 3:30
  • The US collected DNA samples from blood on Bales’ clothing

Though CNN doesn’t say it, some of the details contradict Hakim’s onsite reporting, notably, her interview with several of the Afghan guards starting at 9:44 and again at 11:26. Between them, the guards offer the following story:

  • One Afghan guard, Naimutallah (sp), said he saw Bales returning at 1:30 (and even cocked his gun in apparent alarm); he told the–presumably Afghan–duty officer, who “went to the interpreter to notify the foreign forces” of Bales’ return
  • Another Afghan guard said he saw Bales leave at 2:30; his “patrol” called the–presumably American–platoon commander to tell him an American had left

In other words, the Afghans say they at least tried to alert the Americans when Bales returned to the base, whereas today’s story says no one alerted Americans of Bales’ return the first time, The guards’ story also suggests Bales was  on base for a full hour. The American version claims not to know when Bales returned, but somehow is certain  that Bales was only on base for 30 minutes. And if the second guard is correct that Bales left at 2:30, it means that it took a FOB an hour to mount a search team, at which point Bales had already killed another 12 victims.

Also note that General Karimi, who is conducting an investigation for Hamid Karzai, asks specifically why Bales’ friend or roommate didn’t notice him while he was on the base. That’s prescient–or maybe he has reason to ask–given that CNN’s anonymous source admits Bales did tell his roommmate what he had been up to. (Also note that CNN’s anonymous source dismisses that alcohol played a decisive factor, but doesn’t say whether the two men drinking with Bales that night knew what he had been doing, or whether Bales drank with these men in the 30 minutes to an hour between his alleged attacks.)

Now, as Jim said, the Americans claim they haven’t accessed the sites of the massacre. Compare that to the experience Hakim had. When she first tried to access the base, Afghan security forces told her the Taliban had mined the villages. She seemed skeptical of that claim. As it turns out, the next day, the same security forces were able to take her safely to the villages. In today’s video, she describes the extent to which Karzai intervened to get her access to the survivors; I wonder whether he did the same to get her access to the villages. Update: I’ve watched Hakim’s follow-up video again and she makes it clear that Karzai’s intervention also got her access to the sites. When Hakim went to the villages, they were totally empty; the Afghans with her told her people had all left, to go to the cities.

Hakim’s success at getting to the villages clearly suggests it would be possible to go there–though perhaps only with Karzai’s approval, which makes me wonder whether Karzai is preventing Americans from accessing them (which may also prevent Americans from holding Bales fully responsible). Or maybe it’s a real threat from the Taliban. Or maybe they have accessed the villages that an unarmed–albeit Pashto (presumably) speaking–woman managed to access, but claim they haven’t.

One more fascinating detail revealed by the two different CNN stories: In Hakim’s reporting, one of the Afghan guards say that Americans stripped Bales to his underwear when bringing him back onto the base. Today, CNN’s anonymous source reassures that they’ve got DNA taken from Bales’ clothing. I’m not sure why, but that all seems rather suspicious.

I will do one more post on how Hakim’s reporting adds details to the number and circumstances of the victims. But for now, I wanted to note that it sure seems like the military is trying to rebut or explain details revealed in Hakim’s report.

One thing seems clear though. Every group involved with this: the villagers, some of whom may have ties to the Taliban, the Afghan security forces, Karzai, and the US, have dramatically conflicting motives here, which are made palpable in Hakim’s reporting by the Afghans describing that the locals hate them because they hate the Americans and the widow saying she would rip Americans with her bare hands in retaliation.

51 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    Thanks for laying out all the contradictions. I confess that I didn’t watch Hakim’s video until just after I wrote my post. In retrospect, that may be a good thing as I’m sure I would have had a much harder time sorting through the ways the sets of stories differ.

    However, it still remains clear to me that the military is not taking the steps that should have been obvious if they wished to truly get to the bottom of what happened.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: Oh, I agree with you there. (Unless of course they’re lying about accessing the sites.)

    My point is just that the things this anonymous source is saying seem to contradict things people will say on screen.

  3. MadDog says:

    Mighty fine work EW!

    Does the US government even realize how fooked up this is making them all seem?

    Sure doesn’t seem to dawned on anyone in charge yet, up to and including ISAF Commander General Allen, numerous DOD folks including Secretary Panetta, as well as on up to the White House.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: I’m not sure they have a choice–and I’m not sure how many sides Karzai is playing here, either.

    Karzai wants this to give him the leverage to get veto power over night raids. The US know that’s a non-starter, but that Karzai’s in the position to flip to the Taliban (and may need to to save his skin).

    But the villagers claim Bales was the one who threatened to retaliate for the IED (note, I’m skeptical they could ID him like that, certainly not w/o ANA help, and they claim all us whites look the same).

    Now at the very least, it seems that some guys on the base knew what Bales was up to–and may have stalled the “search team” to let him do it. That doesn’t make this a sanctioned night raid, but it doesn’t necessarily make it unsanctioned.

    So teh US optimal outcome is to stall on the investigation, stall on teh trial, until such time as most troops are gone and they can settle w/Bales for manslaughter or something.

  5. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Also, I wonder whether US night raids might have suddenly undergone a mysterious hiatus since the Panjwai massacre?

    I don’t suppose we’ll be told if such is the case.

  6. Ben Franklin says:


    That doesn’t make this a sanctioned night raid, but it doesn’t necessarily make it unsanctioned.

    Sanctioned, or no; the Rules of Engagement of Night Raids are routinely disregarded?

    This was a little over the top for Command?

  7. orionATL says:

    i am a part of my culture. i have at least some bias (though less each year) in favor of words spoken by people of my culture vs words spoken by those from another culture.

    but intellectually at least i recoil that villagers who were present at the massacre have their accounts treated as of lesser merit than american spokespeople of one stripe or another.

    in her first report (3/11) on the, ew cited a reuters article.

    below that article was this one which keeps the issue of one vs more-than-one very much alive, to my mind:

  8. emptywheel says:

    One other thing about accessing the site. In her longer piece, Hakim says that when investigators first went to the scene, they were attacked by the Taliban and an ANA soldier was killed.

    That might legitimately explain why the US hasn’t investigated. But then why was Hakim able to access the site? Did the Taliban give her permission? Did the ANA ask the Taliban to let her access the site?

  9. orionATL says:

    “…That might legitimately explain why the US hasn’t investigated…”

    with all the soldiers and armaments we have there and a major american base 15 mi away?

  10. emptywheel says:

    @orionATL: Not from a might perspective, but from a diplomatic one.

    What I’m trying to say is the US are trying to keep ANA people on their side, but the ANA realize they’re being targeted bc of their ties to the Americans. So who controls access to the site?


    While the US could surely bust their way in, if the ANA controls the site, I can see why they might refrain.

  11. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Even the defense investigators for the Browne legal team aren’t going to the site:

    “…A defense team is now in Afghanistan to collect evidence and interview other U.S. soldiers who knew Bales.

    “Everyone they’ve spoken to in the military has nothing but amazingly positive things to say about him,” said Browne, who is not part of the team in Afghanistan.

    Due to security concerns, Browne doesn’t think the team will visit the villages where the killings occurred. The investigators are likely to stay in Afghanistan a few more weeks…”

    And two other points regarding Browne’s spin on everybody in the military there having “positive things to say about [Bales]”:

    1) Bales was only in Afghanistan for a couple of months, so few would have had time to get to know him.

    2) Bales was Regular Army stationed in Camp Belambay in support of Green Beret Special Forces. The elite Green Beanies would have given him no more consideration or attention than a piece of furniture. This might have been a factor in Bales showing that he too has the cojones.

  12. emptywheel says:

    As I’ve updated in the post, Hakim makes it clear in her follow-up video (linked in the post, not embedded) that Karzai’s intervention got her access BOTH to the kids and the village. That doesn’t mean Karzai’s dictating who gets in where–the US may still be doing that. But it does say he has control over someone, whether that be Taliban, ANA, or the US, that can dictate it.

  13. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: That’s not surprising at all. Think of what a big target the defense investigators must be. Obviously American, representing the interests of the guy who got snuck out of the country. I can think of a long list of people, many of them on our side, who’d like to see them dead.

    And while he wasn’t in Afghanistan that long, presumably he was there with guys he deployed with before, so that’s not surprising. Besides to the extent that this might be a coverup relying on Bales’ silence, or to the extent that Bales was exacting revenge for the injury of one of their own guys, I can see why people would want to say nice things.

  14. MadDog says:

    @orionATL: Particularly Picture 3 in the slideshow which shows apparently an Afghan wearing latex gloves. That comports with the same thing I remember from the video.

    And then when one watches the associated video at that very same webpage, at the very end around the 23-25 second frames it shows the scene I previously described.

    Afghans wearing latex gloves picking up spent shell casings and placing them into plastic baggies.

  15. MadDog says:


    “…And while he wasn’t in Afghanistan that long, presumably he was there with guys he deployed with before, so that’s not surprising…”

    That’s why I qualified my comment with the word “few”. *g*

    Seriously though, I suspect that the Green Beanies at the Camp would have made him feel like a 2nd class citizen. How much or little they would have interacted with him was where I was going.

    Browne’s investigators would probably only get terse non-comment comments from them along the lines of “seemed alright”. It’s the kind of stuff that one probably wouldn’t want to make into big deal character assessment as Browne seems to be spinning it right now.

  16. emptywheel says:

    Btw, General Sher Mohammed Karimi, Karzai’s investigator, has extensive training at Fort Bragg, both in Ranger school and Special Forces.

    An interesting choice to conduct this investigation, to say the least.

  17. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: That adds spice to your thoughts about Karzai and the night raids issue.

    I wonder what General Sher Mohammed Karimi’s investigation will show?

  18. JTMinIA says:

    Silly question, but has it come up (yet) that March 11th is exactly six months away from September 11th?

    (I’ll take my answer off-the-air, since I need to put my tin-foil hat back on.)

  19. emptywheel says:

    You know, if there’s a significant discrepancy between the guards testimony and the base’s, it may support a second soldier leaving the base. The guards have never claimed to know it was Bales who left and one of them says all Americans look the same to him, just that they saw someone leave.

    There was a guard earlier who claimed to have seen the same guy leave twice. Only we haven’t heard from him in a while.

  20. orionATL says:



    – the killings were in two villages – one to the north, one south of
    the base

    – one involved only adults (4)

    – the other involved 8 children plus adults

    – bales was found

    – missing from the base and,

    – presumably, returning to it

    only on the later of the two forays.

    video, if available, might positively identify bales on both forays – or not.

    anybody know which set of killings occurred first?

  21. orionATL says:

    other questions –

    where did the wounded come from? one village or both

    were the wounded from one or more of the houses attacked or from other houses?

    were any of the wounded children?

  22. brendanx says:

    Not sure if you still follow the secret prisons stuff, but the Polish prosecutor has charged the then head of their intelligence agency, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski.

  23. emptywheel says:

    @orionATL: Working on that. Several accounts say he attacked Alkozai first–with the 4+ dead, a number of injured. That’s the attack where they ran from house to house, ending in Habibullah’s house.

    The Najiban is reported to have been second–he appears to have hit Wazir’s house plus Dawood, which is the guy whose brains were falling out. In addition to the dead, Wazir’s daughter has a bad head wound. Most if not all of the other injured, I think, were from the Alkozai attack.

  24. emptywheel says:

    @emptywheel: Sorry. All of Wazir’s family members were killed. So I think all the wounded were at Alkozai, which is where Saan Jaan’s family was killed. Three of his nieces and nephews were injured.

  25. orionATL says:



    i was testing to see if the two sets of murders were different in an important way, e.g., one might not have involved children.

    i still not certain, but i have a feeling that one won’t fly.

  26. Jeff Kaye says:

    @orionATL: good questions – does anyone know if any reporter as actually yet talked to any of the wounded? Global Post reported ISAF forces wouldn’t allow that, but some days have now passed since.

  27. emptywheel says:

    @Jeff Kaye: Yes–that’s what the Hakim reporting is, she speaks with 3 children, two on camera. Karzai intervened to make sure she could (she has interviewed Karzai in the past).

  28. orionATL says:

    this whole thing reeks of an extraordinarily violent rage –

    which seems to have lasted an unusually long time.

    nothing says that more clearly than the witness who said the attacker was bashing a woman’s head against the side of her house;

    this is a frenzy of rage.

  29. orionATL says:

    @Jeff Kaye:


    i was thinking of you, jeff, as i was typing my last comment – thinking about rage and about what seems to me to be the unusual lifespan of this bout of rage, more than three hours before it was sated.

  30. lysias says:

    @brendanx: When that CIA prison was operating in Poland, Anne Applebaum’s husband Radoslaw Sikorski was Minister of Defense. He’s Foreign Minister in the current government. Somehow I doubt if he will be facing charges or an investigation.

  31. Jim White says:

    @MadDog: and @orionATL Thank you both for finding the photos and videos of the Afghan authorities apparently collecting evidence that could include shell casings and bullets. I’m glad that in my post I allowed for the possibility that the Afghans collected such evidence. Now, as you point out, the questions relate to whether this evidence has a solid chain of custody and will withstand scrutiny in a trial of Bales or anyone else.

  32. harpie says:

    @Jim White:

    Hi, Jim!
    Since I wasn’t following this from the beginning, I went back to anything you all wrote about it since the 11th. On 3/13/ Marcy linked to this CNN report which has this:

    A U.S. official familiar with some elements of the investigation says CID investigators have “recovered some initial evidence” from the scene, including shell casings. [snip]
    “Ballistics is not going to be a problem,” the official told CNN.
    While officials are likely to be able to recover much of this material, all the victims have been buried and permission to exhume the bodies is unlikely the official said.
    And they’re also talking about forwarding recommendations up the chain of command.
    After the CID completes its investigation, investigators will forward their findings up the chain of command, and military officials “will then make judicial process decisions,” according to Kirby.

    Did Army Criminal Investigative Division get to the crime scene and collect shell casings or didn’t they?

  33. harpie says:

    @Jim White: That’s true. It didn’t strike me that way, though. I guess they may have “‘recovered some initial evidence’ from the scene” by proxy.
    [PS: I think it’s great that you joined Marcy and bmaz here!]

  34. orionATL says:

    i’m curious how bales started the fire that burned the bodies.

    he could have used a near-by can of gasoline, but that likely wasn’t available and would have been extremely dangerous for him.

    i’d like to know:

    do u.s. soldiers carry an “accelerant” (as our fire dep’ts called a flammable liquid used to get a fire going good) among their gear?

    do they carry with them chemicals not used as accelerants, but commonly known to be good fire starters?

    this is getting at the question of premeditation.

  35. MadDog says:

    @orionATL: It may be that there were no accelerants. From some of the news reports, it was suggested that blankets or other types of cloth were used in the attempt to burn some of the victims’ bodies.

  36. orionATL says:



    my thought was that blankets and rugs by themselves would just sit and smolder, or at least not get going fast enough for an assassin in a hurry.

    additionally, the surviving family commented that the killer had poured a chemical on the bodies and set them alight.

    it seems likely bales used something that the survivors could smell or see.

  37. joanneleon says:

    @harpie: Yes, I remember that story well — the story about the casings recovered and the fact that the bodies had been buried within a day. So I was surprised by the report that Americans had not been given access to the scene.

    Bales’ lawyer has been almost bragging that “there is no crime scene” which I also found interesting, and frankly, a little sickening.

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