Monday, March 19, 2012

U.S. Soldier Accused of Afghan Killings Brought Home: Conflicting Accounts of His Character Emerge

U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
On Friday, March 16, 2012, Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier accused of killing sixteen Afghan civilians on March 11, 2012, was flown from Kuwait to the military’s only maximum-security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  Although Bales is now in the U.S., where he is being held in pre-trial detention, his military tribunal proceedings may take place in Afghanistan.  However, the Afghan government has demanded that Bales be tried in an Afghan tribunal.  If Bales is convicted he could receive the death penalty, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The fact that it has taken a mere six days from the time of the killings to Bales’ removal to the United States highlights the magnitude of the case and the United States’ sense of urgency in preventing Bales’ from being subjected to an Afghan tribunal, where Bales would likely not be afforded the same Due Process that a United States court or even military tribunal would afford him.

Until this past Friday, military officials had kept Bales’ identity under wraps and as result little was known about him.  Now, as more information has been released about Bales’ character, a conflicting image has emerged.  Bales’ lawyer, John Henry Browne, has said that Bales and the other members of his camp were upset that one of their men was severely injured the day prior to the incident.  Browne said Bales saw his friend’s leg blown off the day before the killings.  This fact may prove to be one that is emphasized by the prosecution in establishing Bales’ motive for the senseless killings.  Others that knew the soldier appeared to be in disbelief that Bales was the suspect in the incident.  One of Bales’ neighbors “[could]n’t believe it was [Bales],” recalling the soldier as being kind-hearted.  

Conversely, Bales has had previous encounters with trouble.  For example, in 2002, Bales was arrested for assaulting a girlfriend in Tacoma, Washington where he pleaded not guilty but was required to receive twenty hours of anger management counseling, after which the case was dismissed.  Also, in 2009 Bales was required to pay $1,000 in fines and restitution in connection with a hit-and-run charge which was ultimately dismissed.  

Bales’ mental state during the killings has been a subject of debate recently as questions of alcohol use and possible post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have surfaced.  The possible involvement of alcohol is being investigated as bottles of alcohol were found near Bales’ camp.  This past Friday, a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Bales was drinking before the attack, in violation of a U.S. military order banning alcohol in war zones.  If alcohol was involved, it may play a part in how the defense argues Bales’ mental state at the time of the killings.  Furthermore, Browne said that although he does not know as of yet whether Bales was suffering from PTSD, that it may be an issue at trial if experts believe it to be relevant.  

As Bales’ case progresses, more information is sure to emerge regarding both his mental state and his moral character.  New facts are likely to emerge in the coming days regarding a possible motive that Bales may have had in connection with the killings and/or whether he had complete control over his faculties when he allegedly killed sixteen Afghan civilians.  Whether it was alcohol related, a result of PTSD caused by witnessing his friend’s leg being blown off, or just a willful act of violence, Browne must work to put together a defense theory or else Bales could face the death penalty.

Anoush Garakani
Blogger, Criminal Law Brief 


  1. How is his character relevant to the charges? Yes, so of course Bales' wife and everyone he's ever known will testify that "He's a good, upstanding man, he would never do a thing like that."

    But he did. With the exception of serial killers, rarely does a murderer demonstrate the "character of a murderer" - whatever that might be - beforehand.

  2. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.