Sgt. Robert Bales: Details emerge on soldier charged with killing Afghan villagers

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales joined the Army shortly after the 911 terrorist attacks, and he served three tours in Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan. Now he sits in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, charged with killing 16 Afghan villagers.

Spc. Ryan Hallock/DVIDS/AP
In this Aug. 2011 photo, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, right, participates in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. The man at left is unidentified. Staff Sgt. Bales is charged with killing 16 Afghan villagers.

The US Army has at last released the name of the soldier who went on a shooting spree nearly one week ago, killing 16 Afghan civilians including 9 children.

But there remain a number of questions surrounding precisely what led 38 year-old Staff Sergeant Robert Bales to embark on a murderous rampage.

The Pentagon released details late Friday night that begin to paint a picture of Sgt. Bales, who enlisted in the military just two months after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

His first deployment to Iraq came in November, 2004, where he served for a year. He returned in June of 2006 for an extended 15-month tour, which the Army began instituting at the height of violence in Iraq. 

Bales returned to the country again in August, 2009, where he served until June of the following year.

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During that time, in an interview with a local newspaper, he extolled the virtues of careful soldiering to protect the local population. 

“I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this unit … for the simple fact that we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants,” he told the Fort Lewis Northwest Guardian after a battle in Iraq in 2007. “Afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us.”

John Henry Browne, Bales’ Seattle-based lawyer, told reporters that his client had not demonstrated any animosity towards the Afghan people. “He’s never said anything antagonistic about Muslims,” Mr. Browne said. “He’s in general very mild-mannered.”

Prior to deploying to Afghanistan in December, Bales received traumatic brain injury (TBI) treatment at Fort Lewis and “was deemed to be fine,” according to ABC News.

Even so, Bales was surprised when he learned he would have to return to war last year, according to his lawyer.

Once he arrived in Afghanistan, he was assigned to be part of a protection unit for Special Operations Forces working with local militias. 

The Pentagon release notes multiple awards and decorations for Bales, including three Army “good conduct” medals, two meritorious unit commendations, and the Army superior unit award. 

But while Browne told reporters that Bales was “highly decorated” and had been injured twice in Iraq, there is no mention in Bales’ Pentagon-released service record of any Purple Hearts, and a recommendation for a Bronze Star for Bales was turned down.

Now he is being held in pre-trial confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in a “state-of-the-art, medium/minimum custody facility,” according to the Pentagon release.

Bates is “in special housing in his own cell and not in a four-person bay. He will be afforded time outside the cell for hygiene and recreational purposes,” the release adds.

In his hometown, neighbors say they are stunned Bales stands accused of mass murder. “I’m shocked. I’m completely shocked,” Kassie Holland told CBS News. “He was always happy. Happy guy, full of life – I really wouldn’t expect it.”

The charges run contrary to Bales’ own words in the 2007 interview with his local newspaper as well, when he expressed disdain for any insurgent would could put “his family in harm’s way like that,” he said. “I think that’s the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy.”

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