CNN: “No US Access to Sites of Afghan Killings”, But Did US Ask for Access?
A story just posted at CNN.com addresses two crucial questions that have been raised at Emptywheel regarding the Panjwai massacre. Late last night, MadDog repeated a speculation he has raised several times regarding how Bales could have been undetected when he left the outpost twice on the night of the killings:
Given the 3 points above, I’ll again wonder as I’ve done here before whether Bales himself was an individual assigned to provide the very security that he’s purported to have breached.
The CNN article confirms that very fact:
The official said Bales, 38, was meant to have been on duty guarding the base that night, and would have had full body armour and weaponry as standard.
A point that I raised in an early post on this incident was that we would be able to tell how serious the US is in determining whether Bales truly acted alone or if other soldiers were present and fired weapons during the killings would be to observe how fully the US carries out forensic examinations of the crime scenes:
Although the bodies appear to have been buried already, we will know just how serious the US is about establishing the number of shooters involved in the attack if they actually visit the homes invaded to recover shell casings and bullets. Even rudimentary forensic evaluation should be able to establish conclusively how many weapons were fired. Slightly more advanced forensics can determine whether all the weapons involved were in the possession of the soldier who has turned himself in.
Remarkably, over two and a half weeks after the attack, we now learn that the US has not yet had “access” to the crime scenes:
U.S. military officials have yet to gain access to the sites in which 17 Afghans were killed in Kandahar, an obstacle that could impede efforts to prosecute the American soldier accused of the multiple homicides.
U.S. personnel had not been able to collect DNA from the sites or access the areas, although DNA collected by Afghan investigators may have been received, an official said.
However, DNA has been found in blood on the clothing of the suspect, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.
“We do not have access to the crime scene,” said the U.S. official, who has knowledge of the investigation but did not want to be identified discussing an ongoing inquiry.
With so much time having passed, it seems to me that the question of access now becomes moot. It seems virtually impossible that Afghan officials have sealed off the crime scenes and limited access there only to their own investigators, so any evidence gathered at this point is rendered virtually meaningless.
Not addressed by CNN is whether the US even asked for access to the crime scenes. It has been reported that the US transported at least some of the wounded for treatment. If that occurred, why did no troops remain behind to secure the scene for later investigation? It’s hard to imagine why the Afghans would not have allowed access to the crime scenes if the US had asked for it. Successful prosecution of whoever carried out the killings would seem to be a primary concern for the Afghans, so they should have been motivated to provide access to the sites. How difficult would it have been for a joint investigation to have been organized in the immediate aftermath? A joint investigative team collecting evidence together would have seemed to be a natural and rapid agreement given the circumstances.
Whatever the reasons for the US not getting access for analysis, whether due to refusal by the Afghans or the US not being interested enough in the outcome to even request access, Bales’ attorney already has realized the importance of this developing gaping hole in the case against him:
“They have no murder scene, no forensics,” the lawyer said Thursday night outside his Seattle office. “I’m going to make them prove every claim.”
Military law experts acknowledge that proving the case may be difficult, especially given that there are no autopsies to help prove the cause of death — in part because those killed were buried quickly, in accordance with Islamic tradition — and difficulty in getting witnesses to testify.
But Gary Solis, a former U.S. Marine Corps lawyer and current Georgetown professor, told CNN that any bullet rounds recovered from the scene could be matched with Bales’ weapon — assuming it was “immediately seized” — which would serve as “powerful evidence for the government.”
Solis does raise an interesting question. Was Bales’ weapon (or weapons) seized immediately when he surrendered? As for the “bullet rounds” Solis discusses, now that we know no access to the sites has been obtained, we are left with the very low probability that a casing or casings were picked up along with the wounded who were transported for treatment, along with any bullets or bullet fragments removed from them surgically. Any evidence from these sources would be only a small fraction of the total amount of evidence that would have been ready for collection in the immediate aftermath of the shootings. That evidence now has no chance of being used against the killer(s), unless Afghan investigators controlled the crime scenes and then documented and collected bullets and casings. The results of the Afghans’ analyses, or the materials gathered, would need to be shared with the US for any prosecution to be successful.
Coupling this apparent complete failure to collect evidence at the crime scenes with the decision to hold Bales’ trial in the US, making it virtually impossible for Afghans to testify, we get the distinct impression that the military is setting the stage for Bales to be the only suspect tried and for him to be acquitted due to lack of evidence.
Update: See this comment and the the comments related to it from MadDog and orionATL for links to photos and video of Afghan authorities appearing to collect evidence on the day following the killings. Will any evidence collected be shared with the US, and will it withstand scrutiny in a prosecution of Bales or anyone else? Why didn’t CNN’s source mention that the Afghans have collected evidence at the crime scenes?
I blame it on Bradley Manning.
The whole place is a crime scene….
a drunk soldier was allowed to go on duty
a soldier was allowed to drink on duty?
where were the officers?
speaking of which, i have heard no noise yet about anyone but bales being transferred or otherwise disciplined.
“…Remarkably, over two and a half weeks after the attack, we now learn that the US has not yet had “access” to the crime scenes:
U.S. military officials have yet to gain access to the sites in which 17 Afghans were killed in Kandahar, an obstacle that could impede efforts to prosecute the American soldier accused of the multiple homicides…”
a military that conducts raids anywhere in afghanistan at will has to wait to be “invited” or “permitted” to a murder scene generated by one of its soldiers?
how very civil of that military.
…the military is setting the stage for Bales to be the only suspect tried and for him to be acquitted due to lack of evidence.
As with the Ted Stevens and Trayvon Miller cases, I’m starting to think that the shoddy investigations and supposedly-incompetent prosecutors are now a “feature” in the justice system, no longer a “bug”…
As I’ll show–I’ll do a f-up post–what this source is saying contradicts CNN’s own onsite reporting.
“a military that conducts raids anywhere in afghanistan at will has to wait to be “invited” or “permitted” to a murder scene generated by one of its soldiers?”
Sorry, but a crime scene analysis is no raid. It needs patience and due diligence. Perhaps the two villages are not secure any more?
i’m sure you’re right.
my point is that the u.s. military could have gone anywhere in those villages they pleased, cordoned off, and conducted a forensic investigation.
when you have the helicopters and the guns, you make the rules.
“local concerns and sensitivities” seem like an opportunistic excuse here.
having read the cnn story, i’m not sure that bales’ attorney is not blowing some smoke.
– i thought bales had confessed that he had killed afghans to base “officials”
– wounded can testify by video i presume
“U.S. soldiers noticed Bales had blood on him, and he dropped to the ground saying nothing, the official said.
Bales has maintained his silence on the killings since, the official said, his apparent last words to U.S. personnel being to his roommate.”
yes, i read that.
i’m recalling earlier reports.
I keep saying it. This is SOP for the military. My Lai had a Platoon, and yet only one, Calley was charged.
The incident occurred in March o ’68. The investigation didn’t begin until the summer of ’69. What kind of evidence existed for forensics after 15 months in a steamy jungle?
” There were others who were deeply worried of what such a war crimes trial would mean. It would be America itself on stage; the whole Vietnam War issue would be explored, dissected, ripped apart in all its ugly truth. President Nixon decided to let the Army handle it with a court martial. On September 6, 1969, two days before he was to be released from the Army, Lt. William Calley was formally charged at Fort Benning, Georgia, with 109 murders.”
Then, there’s that….
OK, I’ve got a new post laying out what I think this anonymous source is doing–among other things, trying ot rebut CNN’s earlier reporting.
I agree with Jim that given that the information in this CNN report is accurate, the US investigative and legal folks have dropped the ball with regard to this massacre of Afghan civilians.
I can understand the absence of an effort to secure the crime scene by the US military folks who first responded to the horrendous incident.
They are not CSIs, and from all the reports I’ve seen and read thusfar, the first US military folks involved were a search party for an absent US soldier, and perhaps US military “First Responders” treating and evacuating the wounded.
That said, I again agree with Jim that it appears that US investigative and legal folks then should have jumped in with both feet.
The enormous US Kandahar base is less than 15 miles away from the massacre crime scenes in the Panjwai villages, and a base that hosts the following surely has CSI-aware US investigative and legal folks:
I would note that the dereliction of duty charge against Bales is likely directly tied to his guard duty absence.
FWIW, I distinctly remember seeing in some of the first video of the massacre site(s), what appeared to be Afghans wearing latex gloves picking up spent shell casings and placing them into plastic baggies.
Were these folks official Afghan investigators? If so, is there “chain of custody” documentation that would meet our legal standards?
Don’t know, and don’t know.
“…we get the distinct impression that the military is setting the stage for Bales to be the only suspect tried and for him to be acquitted due to lack of evidence.”
This has been nagging at me ever since I first read it here. And thinking about it has led me to wonder how Bales can afford the high-powered team of lawyers he’s supposed to have. How he even knew of Browne? If the news stories I’ve seen are accurate, Bales was savvy enough to clam up from the very outset. Not exactly the way I’d imagine a brain-addled person would behave…
The lead lawyer echoes what has been written here:
“I don’t know if the government is going to prove much,” lead attorney John Henry Browne told CNN about the shootings of nine children, three women and four men in a village in southern Afghanistan. “There’s no forensic evidence, there’s no confessions.
It starting to look to me like there was some premeditated murder which will go unpunished. I may never know how many others were involved in the crime and coverup.
A (now former) co-worker got a job in Kandahar, probably on that base. We got a card from him this week.
First of all, I would not say that “we know” anything based on this report.
Second, the quote above seems off-base to me. Reading of Afghan motives can be a tricky business, but cynicism about the US ability to clean up crime scenes might make them wary of turning the scene over to the US. A joint investigation, maybe. But the “police work” at this crime scene makes about as much sense as the police work after Treyvon Martin’s murder. Another possible parallel to keep our eyes on is that the police work re: Treyvon is emerging as better than the AG who decided not to press any charges against Zimmerman, and allowing valuable evidence to be lost. This sounds so much like police work in the old South, where the evidence would be fixed around the case so that it would work out in the way that the White power structure wanted.
Bob in AZ
Jim: …just in case you didn’t see this:
Generals Who Don’t Just Fade Away: The Newest in Self-Dealing Maneuvers; By Dina Rasor, Truthout; 3/29/12
@Bob Schacht: Hi Bob,
I just saw this at ProPublica. I don’t know how long it’s been there.
Trayvon Martin Police Report; ProPublica
@harpie: Aw, now. I was having a nice evening until running into Stanley again.
(Actually, thanks. I had seen a link to that earlier in the day and never made it back there.)
@Jim White: ;-P
Transcription of the police report narratives from this PDF:
The CNN interview with the Australian journalist who interviewed the survivors of the massacre has been around for over a day, so since the accounts of the survivors are so at odds with the the official military account, shouldn’t this discrepancy be a point of substantial interest to major media outlets? I don’t understand why no one is picking this contradiction up. It’s not as though CNN International is the equivalent of the Weekly World or something.