This AP reports that the US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghans last year, Robert Bales, will plead guilty to avoid a possible death sentence.
The subtext of the article is more interesting. The AP quotes family members of those killed saying they will exact revenge if he is not killed.
In interviews with the AP in Kandahar in April, relatives of the victims became outraged at the notion Bales might escape the death penalty and even vowed revenge.
“For this one thing, we would kill 100 American soldiers,” said Mohammed Wazir, who had 11 family members killed that night, including his mother and 2-year-old daughter.
It notes that legal observers didn’t think he’d be given a death sentence (note, Nidal Hasan almost surely will get a death sentence, though his trial is moving more slowly).
Bales was serving his fourth tour in a combat zone, and the allegations against him raised questions about the toll multiple deployments were taking on American troops. For that reason, many legal experts believed it that it was unlikely that he would receive the death penalty, as Army prosecutors were seeking. The military justice system hasn’t executed anyone since 1961.
And it hints at just a few of the other details the government probably doesn’t want probed too deeply.
He had been drinking contraband alcohol, snorting Valium that was provided to him by another soldier, and had been taking steroids before the attack.
In other words, Bales may have had less to lose than the government in going to trial. I get why his lawyer is advocating a plea deal (and there may be an understanding about whether he’ll be eligible for parole ever), but I suspect the government had far more to lose here.
Update: See this post, which gives DOD’s latest update on the lack of military operations during the attack.
According to Amy Davidson, the explanation that Robert Bales’ 17th victim was an unborn child, which I noted here, has been debunked. That explanation was based on the presence of an unnamed Afghan male–listed as murder charge 5–in Bales’ charge sheet. But that explanation missed another unnamed victim–this one a female–under murder charge 4.
So let’s take a step back, and consider another possibility: that there are actually more than 17 victims, several of whom Afghans aren’t naming, and possibly at least one other solider known to have killed at least 3 Afghans as well. Here’s why I think that may be true.
First, when asked about the discrepancy in numbers yesterday, here’s how General John Allen answered.
Q: General, one quick housekeeping thing and then a question. There’s been some ongoing confusion over the jump in the number of casualties from 16 to 17. I was wondering if you might be able to discuss that briefly.
GEN. ALLEN: I’m getting your one question in three parts here, so give me just a second. And if I miss one, let me — just tell me.
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. So that is something that we understand and we accept, and as the investigation goes forward, we’ll get greater clarity in that.
Q: (Off mic) — 16 versus 17, did the — just to be clear — did the Afghans miscount? Did someone die after the initial assessment?
GEN. ALLEN: We’ll have to let that come out in the investigation.
Note that he never says 17 is the correct number. Rather, he says the original number came from the Afghans, “there was an increase in the number,” and “we’ll have to let” the correct number “come out in the investigation.”
All that is perfectly consistent with the number being greater than the 17 the reporters are working with, which is based on Bales’ charge sheet.
So now compare Bales’ charge sheet with the two lists offered by Afghans.
The Wall Street Journal has the story on the Panjwai killing that should have been written on Monday, not Friday. It tells the story of the massacre from the perspectives of Mohammed Wazir, Mullah Baran, and Syed Jaan, Afghan men who lost family members in the attack.
Wazir, for example, describes what it’s like to lose his 12 and 13-year old sons, and what it’s like to find the fabric his wife planned to use to make outfits for Eid.
Mr. Wazir says he is haunted by guilt. “It hurts me a lot when I remember occasions when I shouted at my sons because I asked them to do something and they ignored it,” he says. “I feel so very sorry now.”
At least, he says, he can take solace in knowing he had bought his two sons two new bicycles, which they had so badly wanted, before they died.
Mr. Wazir says his family had rolls of freshly bought cloth that his wife and mother intended to use to sew new outfits for his children for the Eid al Fitr Islamic festival—still five months away. “It is still there—and there is no one to wear them,” he sighed.
He also suggests his youngest child–2 year old Palwasha–may have been burned alive.
Mr. Wazir says the corpse of his 2-year-old daughter Palwasha was amid the charred bodies. He believes she was burned alive. “I checked her body, and there were no bullet marks.”
Wazir also mentioned a story reported elsewhere today–that the Americans had recently conducted night raids in retaliation for an IED they blamed on the village; the frequent night raids meant no one reacted when the intruders came.
As the Australian elaborates on that part of the story, the IED went off on March 7 or 8 (the attack was March 11). In response, Americans lined the male villagers up and said they’d get revenge.
Ghulam Rasool, a tribal elder from Panjwai district, gave an account of the bombing at a March 16 meeting in Kabul with Mr Karzai in the wake of the shootings.
“After the incident, they took the wreckage of their destroyed tank and their wounded people from the area,” Mr Rasool said. “After that, they came back to the village nearby the explosion site.
“The soldiers called all the people to come out of their houses and from the mosque,” he said.
“The Americans told the villagers ‘A bomb exploded on our vehicle. … We will get revenge for this incident by killing at least 20 of your people,”‘ Mr Rasool said. “These are the reasons why we say they took their revenge by killing women and children in the villages.”
Now, we’re still unable to discern which of the many competing narratives lies closer to the truth (aside from Wazir and the other family members’ descriptions of their grief).
But it does seem that if these threats of revenge took place in the week before the massacre–particularly if the IED attack caused Sergeant Robert Bales’ buddy to lose his leg–the US loses credibility by not admitting as much.
That may not affect the story about whether or not Bales operated alone, but it is part of the story.