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US Identifies Army Sergeant in Killing of 16 in Afghanistan

Saturday, 17 March 2012 04:50 By James Dao, Truthout | Report
US Identifies Army Sergeant in Killing of 16 in Afghanistan

A soldier identified as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, left, appeared in this photo and in an article in High Desert Warrior, a military Web site, in 2011. (Photo: Spc. Ryan Hallock, 28th Public Affairs Detachment / U.S. Army via The New York Times)

The military on Friday identified the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers earlier this week as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a 38-year-old father of two who had been injured twice in combat over the course of four deployments and had, his lawyer said, an exemplary military record.

 The release of Sergeant Bales’s name, first reported by Fox News, ended an extraordinary six-day blackout of public information about him from the Pentagon, which said it withheld his identity for so long because of concerns about his and his family’s security.

An official said on Friday that Sergeant Bales had been transferred from Kuwait to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he had a cell to himself in the medium-security prison there. His wife and children were moved from their home in Lake Tapps, Wash., east of Tacoma, onto Joint Base Lewis-McChord, his home base, earlier this week.

Military officials say Sergeant Bales, who has yet to be formally charged, left his small combat outpost in the volatile Panjwai district of Kandahar Province early in the morning last Sunday, walked into two nearby villages and there shot or stabbed 16 people, 9 of them children.

Little more than the outlines of Sergeant Bales’s life are publicly known. His family lived in Lake Tapps, a community about 20 miles northeast of his Army post. NBC News reported that he was from Ohio, and he may have lived there until he joined the Army at 27. Sergeant Bales’s Seattle-based lawyer, John Henry Browne, said several members of the sergeant’s family moved to Washington after he was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Mr. Browne said the sergeant joined the Army right after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and then spent almost all of his career at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where he was part of the Third Stryker Brigade in the Second Infantry Division, named after the armored Stryker vehicles.

The killings have severely undermined longstanding NATO efforts to win support from villages in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, and have shaken relations with the government of President Hamid Karzai, who this week told Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who was on a visit to Afghanistan, that he wanted American forces out of villages by next year.

Pentagon officials, who have been scouring the sergeant’s military and health records for clues, have said little about what they think motivated the killings. But one senior government official said Thursday that Sergeant Bales had been drinking alcohol before the killings and that he might have had marital problems.

“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” said the official, who had been briefed on the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sergeant had not yet been charged.

Mr. Browne has disputed those assertions, telling reporters on Thursday that the sergeant’s marriage was sound and questioning reports about drinking. On the day before the shootings, he said, the sergeant had seen a fellow soldier lose his leg from a buried mine.

Mr. Browne, who said he had had a short conversation with Sergeant Bales because he was worried that their phone call was being monitored, added that the sergeant had thought he could avoid this deployment and was upset when he could not.

“The family was counting on him not being redeployed,” Mr. Browne said. “He and the family were told that his tours in the Middle East were over.”

He added, “I think that it would be fair to say that he and the family were not happy that he was going back.”

The Bales family lived in a two-story, wood-frame house beneath tall fir and cedar evergreens in Lake Tapps, an unincorporated section of Pierce County, Wash. Kassie Holland, a neighbor, said that as far as she could tell, they were a happy family and the sergeant was a devoted father to his young children, a daughter, Quincy, and a son, Bobby. “There were no signs,” Ms. Holland said when asked whether Mr. Bales seemed troubled.

The Baleses’ house had a lock box on the front door on Friday. Phillip Rodocker, a real estate agent, said that he was contacted by Ms. Bales on March 8, three days before the shooting in Afghanistan, and that she told him she wanted to sell the house in Lake Tapps.

“She told me she was behind in our payments,” Mr. Rodocker said. “She said he was on his fourth tour and it was getting kind of old and they needed to stabilize their finances.”

Mr. Rodocker said he and a colleague met with Ms. Bales at the house the next day. “It looked like it had been really, really neglected,” he said. “Four tours of duty and nobody around to take care of the exterior of the property.”

Because it took time for the paperwork to go through, the house was not officially put on the market until Monday, the day after the shooting. On Tuesday, Mr. Rodocker said, “She called and said needed to take the house off the market due to a family emergency.”

He said that the house remained on the market because he had not received a written request for it to be removed.

Zillow, the real estate Web site, shows the house listed for $229,000, about $50,000 less than the family paid for it in 2005. Mr. Rodocker said the house was going to be a short sale, meaning the Baleses owed more to the bank than what it would sell for.

Mr. Rodocker said Ms. Bales also asked his colleague to sell a second property, a house in Auburn, Wash., that he said she had bought before the Baleses were married.

Boxes were piled on the front porch at the house in Lake Tapps along with a snow sled, while toys, a barbecue grill and a weathered hot tub sat in the fenced backyard. Mr. Rodocker said Ms. Bales told him she was collecting boxes to prepare for a move.

Over the course of the decade, Sergeant Bales was deployed three times to Iraq, Army records show: between 2003 and 2004; for 15 months between June 2006 and September 2007, during the height of the civil war and at the beginning of what became known as the surge; and then between August 2009 and August 2010.

During his second tour, his unit, the Second Battalion, Third Infantry Regiment, was involved in a major battle in the city of Najaf while trying to recover a downed Apache helicopter.

On his third deployment, in 2010, a Humvee carrying Sergeant Bales flipped over, possibly because of a roadside bomb, Mr. Browne said. Sergeant Bales injured his head and probably sustained a minor traumatic brain injury, which in chronic cases can lead to cognitive problems, personality changes and a loss of impulse control. Mr. Browne said it was possible that Sergeant Bales also had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mr. Browne also said the sergeant lost part of a foot in another episode, also apparently from an explosive device. It was not clear whether he might have sustained a second traumatic brain injury then.

Court records show that Sergeant Bales was charged with assault in 2002, but that the charge was dismissed. In 2008, he was charged with a hit-and-run involving a parked car, but that too was dropped, the records indicate.

Though the Army has said nothing about the case, investigators have been poring over Sergeant Bales’s evaluations, health records and computers in search of telltale information. But Mr. Browne said his client’s record was good and that he had been awarded a number of medals.

“He’s never said anything antagonistic about Muslims,” Mr. Browne said. “He’s in general been very mild-mannered.”

Joint Base Lewis-McChord has come under scrutiny because of a string of problems in recent years. In 2010, rogue soldiers from another Stryker brigade murdered three Afghan civilians during combat episodes staged by the soldiers. This year, the Army opened investigations into the base’s Madigan Army Medical Center after soldiers complained that diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder were being changed or dismissed.

Some advocates for active-duty troops and veterans say the problems demonstrate that the sprawling base, the Army’s largest on the West Coast, with nearly 40,000 soldiers, was not prepared to handle the strain of repeated deployments. Between 2009 and 2010, when Sergeant Bales was on his third deployment to Iraq, about 18,000 soldiers from the post were sent to war zones, and almost all returned at roughly the same time, overwhelming base services, the critics contend.

But on Friday, the general in charge of managing military bases said that the installation was not under an exceptional amount of strain from multiple deployments and was not seeing an unusual number of crimes or mental health issues, at least when compared with other bases.

“There’s nothing different here than most places,” said Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the commanding general of the United States Army Forces Command. “Again, those things happen. Everybody knows that doesn’t reflect our standards and our values.”

Reporting was contributed by William Yardley and Serge Kovaleski from Lake Tapps, Wash., Isolde Raftery from Seattle and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

This article, "US Identifies Army Sergeant in Killing of 16 in Afghanistan," originally appears at The New York Times News Service.

James Dao

James Dao is a national correspondent for The New York Times covering military and veterans affairs. Prior to joining The Times in 1992, Mr. Dao was a reporter for the New York Daily News, where he was lead writer on a series about the people-smuggling industry in China. He has also been a political reporter for the Record of Hackensack.

Mr. Dao was raised in Williamsville, N.Y. and is a graduate of Yale University. He lives with his wife and three children in New Jersey.


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US Identifies Army Sergeant in Killing of 16 in Afghanistan

Saturday, 17 March 2012 04:50 By James Dao, Truthout | Report
US Identifies Army Sergeant in Killing of 16 in Afghanistan

A soldier identified as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, left, appeared in this photo and in an article in High Desert Warrior, a military Web site, in 2011. (Photo: Spc. Ryan Hallock, 28th Public Affairs Detachment / U.S. Army via The New York Times)

The military on Friday identified the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers earlier this week as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a 38-year-old father of two who had been injured twice in combat over the course of four deployments and had, his lawyer said, an exemplary military record.

 The release of Sergeant Bales’s name, first reported by Fox News, ended an extraordinary six-day blackout of public information about him from the Pentagon, which said it withheld his identity for so long because of concerns about his and his family’s security.

An official said on Friday that Sergeant Bales had been transferred from Kuwait to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he had a cell to himself in the medium-security prison there. His wife and children were moved from their home in Lake Tapps, Wash., east of Tacoma, onto Joint Base Lewis-McChord, his home base, earlier this week.

Military officials say Sergeant Bales, who has yet to be formally charged, left his small combat outpost in the volatile Panjwai district of Kandahar Province early in the morning last Sunday, walked into two nearby villages and there shot or stabbed 16 people, 9 of them children.

Little more than the outlines of Sergeant Bales’s life are publicly known. His family lived in Lake Tapps, a community about 20 miles northeast of his Army post. NBC News reported that he was from Ohio, and he may have lived there until he joined the Army at 27. Sergeant Bales’s Seattle-based lawyer, John Henry Browne, said several members of the sergeant’s family moved to Washington after he was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Mr. Browne said the sergeant joined the Army right after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and then spent almost all of his career at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where he was part of the Third Stryker Brigade in the Second Infantry Division, named after the armored Stryker vehicles.

The killings have severely undermined longstanding NATO efforts to win support from villages in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, and have shaken relations with the government of President Hamid Karzai, who this week told Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who was on a visit to Afghanistan, that he wanted American forces out of villages by next year.

Pentagon officials, who have been scouring the sergeant’s military and health records for clues, have said little about what they think motivated the killings. But one senior government official said Thursday that Sergeant Bales had been drinking alcohol before the killings and that he might have had marital problems.

“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” said the official, who had been briefed on the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sergeant had not yet been charged.

Mr. Browne has disputed those assertions, telling reporters on Thursday that the sergeant’s marriage was sound and questioning reports about drinking. On the day before the shootings, he said, the sergeant had seen a fellow soldier lose his leg from a buried mine.

Mr. Browne, who said he had had a short conversation with Sergeant Bales because he was worried that their phone call was being monitored, added that the sergeant had thought he could avoid this deployment and was upset when he could not.

“The family was counting on him not being redeployed,” Mr. Browne said. “He and the family were told that his tours in the Middle East were over.”

He added, “I think that it would be fair to say that he and the family were not happy that he was going back.”

The Bales family lived in a two-story, wood-frame house beneath tall fir and cedar evergreens in Lake Tapps, an unincorporated section of Pierce County, Wash. Kassie Holland, a neighbor, said that as far as she could tell, they were a happy family and the sergeant was a devoted father to his young children, a daughter, Quincy, and a son, Bobby. “There were no signs,” Ms. Holland said when asked whether Mr. Bales seemed troubled.

The Baleses’ house had a lock box on the front door on Friday. Phillip Rodocker, a real estate agent, said that he was contacted by Ms. Bales on March 8, three days before the shooting in Afghanistan, and that she told him she wanted to sell the house in Lake Tapps.

“She told me she was behind in our payments,” Mr. Rodocker said. “She said he was on his fourth tour and it was getting kind of old and they needed to stabilize their finances.”

Mr. Rodocker said he and a colleague met with Ms. Bales at the house the next day. “It looked like it had been really, really neglected,” he said. “Four tours of duty and nobody around to take care of the exterior of the property.”

Because it took time for the paperwork to go through, the house was not officially put on the market until Monday, the day after the shooting. On Tuesday, Mr. Rodocker said, “She called and said needed to take the house off the market due to a family emergency.”

He said that the house remained on the market because he had not received a written request for it to be removed.

Zillow, the real estate Web site, shows the house listed for $229,000, about $50,000 less than the family paid for it in 2005. Mr. Rodocker said the house was going to be a short sale, meaning the Baleses owed more to the bank than what it would sell for.

Mr. Rodocker said Ms. Bales also asked his colleague to sell a second property, a house in Auburn, Wash., that he said she had bought before the Baleses were married.

Boxes were piled on the front porch at the house in Lake Tapps along with a snow sled, while toys, a barbecue grill and a weathered hot tub sat in the fenced backyard. Mr. Rodocker said Ms. Bales told him she was collecting boxes to prepare for a move.

Over the course of the decade, Sergeant Bales was deployed three times to Iraq, Army records show: between 2003 and 2004; for 15 months between June 2006 and September 2007, during the height of the civil war and at the beginning of what became known as the surge; and then between August 2009 and August 2010.

During his second tour, his unit, the Second Battalion, Third Infantry Regiment, was involved in a major battle in the city of Najaf while trying to recover a downed Apache helicopter.

On his third deployment, in 2010, a Humvee carrying Sergeant Bales flipped over, possibly because of a roadside bomb, Mr. Browne said. Sergeant Bales injured his head and probably sustained a minor traumatic brain injury, which in chronic cases can lead to cognitive problems, personality changes and a loss of impulse control. Mr. Browne said it was possible that Sergeant Bales also had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mr. Browne also said the sergeant lost part of a foot in another episode, also apparently from an explosive device. It was not clear whether he might have sustained a second traumatic brain injury then.

Court records show that Sergeant Bales was charged with assault in 2002, but that the charge was dismissed. In 2008, he was charged with a hit-and-run involving a parked car, but that too was dropped, the records indicate.

Though the Army has said nothing about the case, investigators have been poring over Sergeant Bales’s evaluations, health records and computers in search of telltale information. But Mr. Browne said his client’s record was good and that he had been awarded a number of medals.

“He’s never said anything antagonistic about Muslims,” Mr. Browne said. “He’s in general been very mild-mannered.”

Joint Base Lewis-McChord has come under scrutiny because of a string of problems in recent years. In 2010, rogue soldiers from another Stryker brigade murdered three Afghan civilians during combat episodes staged by the soldiers. This year, the Army opened investigations into the base’s Madigan Army Medical Center after soldiers complained that diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder were being changed or dismissed.

Some advocates for active-duty troops and veterans say the problems demonstrate that the sprawling base, the Army’s largest on the West Coast, with nearly 40,000 soldiers, was not prepared to handle the strain of repeated deployments. Between 2009 and 2010, when Sergeant Bales was on his third deployment to Iraq, about 18,000 soldiers from the post were sent to war zones, and almost all returned at roughly the same time, overwhelming base services, the critics contend.

But on Friday, the general in charge of managing military bases said that the installation was not under an exceptional amount of strain from multiple deployments and was not seeing an unusual number of crimes or mental health issues, at least when compared with other bases.

“There’s nothing different here than most places,” said Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the commanding general of the United States Army Forces Command. “Again, those things happen. Everybody knows that doesn’t reflect our standards and our values.”

Reporting was contributed by William Yardley and Serge Kovaleski from Lake Tapps, Wash., Isolde Raftery from Seattle and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

This article, "US Identifies Army Sergeant in Killing of 16 in Afghanistan," originally appears at The New York Times News Service.

James Dao

James Dao is a national correspondent for The New York Times covering military and veterans affairs. Prior to joining The Times in 1992, Mr. Dao was a reporter for the New York Daily News, where he was lead writer on a series about the people-smuggling industry in China. He has also been a political reporter for the Record of Hackensack.

Mr. Dao was raised in Williamsville, N.Y. and is a graduate of Yale University. He lives with his wife and three children in New Jersey.


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