Relatives of 16 Afghan civilians killed by a US soldier during a midnight rampage through two villages have expressed fury over a plea bargain that could see the perpetrator escape execution in return for confessing to the murders. They have called on US military prosecutors handling the trial of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales to imagine loosing their own loved ones to a gunman bent on murder and deaf to pleas of mercy.
“My last request from the world, all the countries, is that as a family of the victims we want our killer to be hanged,” said Haji Baran, who lost his brother Mohammad Daud in the massacre, last March. “If someone entered your house and killed the children and old men and women of the family, what would your response be?”
Bales will enter guilty pleas to charges of premeditated murder on Wednesday, his attorney told the Associated Press. He is expected to be sentenced to life in prison, but a court will decide in September if he will have the possibility of parole. Any plea deal must be approved by both a judge and the commanding general.
There are currently six men on death row in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, where Bales is being held, but none were convicted for atrocities against foreign citizens and the US military has not executed a service member since 1961.
Some relatives of the dead pledged to seek vengeance if Bales is sentenced to life in prison rather than execution for the attacks, in which he killed nine children and seven adults and burned some of the bodies. The scale of the massacre shocked Afghanistan and the west. Although there have been far larger death tolls from air strikes, they have been accepted, at least in foreign troops’ home countries, as tragic mistakes.
“A prison sentence doesn’t mean anything,” Said Jan, whose wife and three other relatives died, told the AP. “I know we have no power now. But I will become stronger and if he does not hang, I will have my revenge.”
The American soldier accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians, most of them women and children, as they slept in villages adjacent to an army outpost in Kandahar province early last year is to plead guilty at a hearing next week in an attempt to stave off the death penalty, his lawyer said.
… Henry Browne said his client, Sergeant Robert Bales, was “broken”, “crazed” and on his fourth deployment to Afghanistan when he slipped away from the outpost in the early morning of 11 March 2012 and went on a rampage, shooting and stabbing his slumbering victims. Mr Browne had indicated, however, that Sgt Bales’s state of mind hadn’t been such he could offer an insanity defence.
I think that the absence of punditry opinion on this is remarkable, especially given the plethora of people willing to give Bales an insanity out when reports of this massacre first hit the news. Yet it appears that even his defense lawyer admits his four tours, his seeing a friend blown up and his monetary troubles at home were not enough to push Bales over the line into the legal definition of insanity. His horrific actions, no matter what we may think about the mental state of someone who could carry out such acts, were self-admittedly pre-meditated, a quite deliberate act of terror.
The line of “insanity” isn’t easily drawn, obviously.
But if Bales was “broken” and “crazed” but not technically insane, capable of carrying out acts of deliberate terror but deserving of at least some of our compassion for the hardships he had endured that brought him to the decision to perpetrate those acts then for universal justice to prevail we have to be prepared to offer the same amount of nuance to others. What then of those we glibly write off as “terrorists” and consign to the rubbish bin of memory, like those who carried out the horrific attack in London recently? What of common murderers who have been pushed beyond some limit by the circumstances of their lives, yet not so far as to be legally “insane” – do they get the same compassion that was lavished on Bales?
Bales’ case should be a thought provoker, a stepping off point for debate about our definitions of insanity, guilt and extenuating circumstances, and a beginning of an approach to criminal justice that sees punishment at odds with compassion. Instead crickets, and that – while not anywhere near the level of 16 snuffed out lives and the impact of that on their families – is a crying shame itself.
The media obsession with Bales’ individuality — flawed, perhaps, but heart-breakingly all-American as well (“At Home, Asking How ‘Our Bobby’ Became War Crime Suspect,” ran the New York Times headline) — ignores basic systems psychology, which understands that nobody exists in a vacuum. One person’s aberrant behavior releases the pressure building up in the whole system. In this case, the system is the Army. Could there be something for the media to explore here that would be even more productive than talking to Robert Bales’ childhood neighbor or former principal? Could there be, for instance, something in the dehumanization of the enemy — a process that makes it possible for soldiers to go against their own nature and take human lives — that results in their own dehumanization as well?War Crimes and the Mythology of ‘Bad Apples’
Something had to be wrong with [Bales], right? As always, the mainstream media’s unquestioning assumption is that the atrocity is the work of an individual nut … a flawed patriot, a bad apple. Oh so quietly ignored is the possibility that there’s something wrong with the military system and culture that produced him.Robert C. Koehler | War Crimes and the Mythology of ‘Bad Apples’
WASHINGTON — In the United States, a murder case can be pretty straightforward: the victim dies, police collect evidence and use it to pursue suspects.
But as U.S. military prosecutors prepare to charge Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in the deaths of 16 Afghan villagers, the challenges they face are certain to make the high-profile case anything but straightforward.
Consider this: Top Afghan officials have called for the suspect to face the death penalty — a possibility that even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has acknowledged — but one aggravating factor that could lead to capital punishment is whether some of the victims were under 15 years of age.
While initial accounts suggest that nine children were killed, the bodies were immediately buried according to Islamic custom. Experts note that in a place where identity records are scarce — and where even the act of collecting spent shells for study can be deadly — how do prosecutors prove that a victim was indeed under 15, was in fact murdered, and was in fact murdered by a bullet from a particular gun?
Military law experts say that the case will be littered with potential traps for the prosecution, including the fact that both Afghan and U.S. investigators have collected evidence from the crime scene. [++]
One prime prerogative of all empires is that it is subject to no laws or accountability other than its own, even when it comes to crimes committed on other nations’ soil and against its people. That was the imperial principle that finally compelled America’s withdrawal from Iraq, and it is apparently what caused the US to quickly remove the accused shooter from Afghanistan. It may be understandable why the US perceives it in its interest to preserve this imperial power, but it should be equally understandable why its victims react with increasing levels of suspicion, resentment and rage.Glenn Greenwald (via azspot)
What makes the Panjwai massacre even more bitter is that it comes at a moment when the war in Afghanistan appears all but hopeless. No one in this country sees the point of more fighting there, except maybe some of those experts, and the politicians who hide behind them. Obama’s surge failed, as Bush’s surge in Iraq ultimately failed, because we don’t have the means to solve these problems other than by fighting—and fighting alone won’t solve them. Counterinsurgency turned out to be a tactic, not a strategy, and a limited one at that. That’s the wonkish way to put it. The straightforward way is to say that all the deaths, Afghan, American, and other, are proving to be a colossal waste.
Here’s a summary of the Western media discussion of what motivated U.S. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to allegedly kill 16 Afghans, including 9 children: he was drunk, he was experiencing financial stress, he was passed over for a promotion, he had a traumatic brain injury, he had marital problems, he suffered from the stresses of four tours of duty, he “saw his buddy’s leg blown off the day before the massacre,” etc.
Here’s a summary of the Western media discussion of what motivates Muslims to kill Americans: they are primitive, fanatically religious, hateful Terrorists.
Even when Muslims who engage in such acts toward Americans clearly and repeatedly explain that they did it in response to American acts of domination, aggression, violence and civilian-killing in their countries, and even when the violence is confined to soldiers who are part of a foreign army that has invaded and occupied their country, the only cognizable motive is one of primitive, hateful evil. It is an act of Evil Terrorism, and that is all there is to say about it. […]
There is, quite obviously, a desperate need to believe that when an American engages in acts of violence of this type (meaning: as a deviation from formal American policy), there must be some underlying mental or emotional cause that makes it sensible, something other than an act of pure hatred or Evil. When a Muslim engages in acts of violence against Americans, there is an equally desperate need to believe the opposite: that this is yet another manifestation of inscrutable hatred and Evil, and any discussion of any other causes must be prohibited and ignored.