It might have been the U.S. army's sheer embarrassment or perhaps a desire to protect the family of the suspect. But whatever it was, the Pentagon's clumsy attempt to wipe their websites clean of all fingerprints leading to the Afghan civilian massacre suspect, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales (38), only raised more questions about the army's motives.
With some questioning why five days had passed before the Pentagon identified Bales as the suspected killer of a group of Afghans including nine children and three women, the army's fumbling attempt to delete photographs and information about Bales' military service proved futile. A personal blog by Bales' wife Karilyn was also discovered.
With cached pages and other sources of information available online to those skilled in the art of data mining on the Internet, McClatchy news reported that within minutes of the Pentagon leaking Bales' name last Friday, “news organizations and others found and published his pictures, the account of the battle — which depicts Bales and other soldiers in a glowing light — and excerpts from his wife's personal blog.”
According to reports quoting unnamed military officials, the thinking behind the attempted deletions was that “Protecting a military family has to be a priority.” That official reportedly added, “I think the feeding frenzy we saw after his name was released was evidence that we were right to try. ... Of course the pages are cached; we know that. But we owe it to the wife and kids to do what we can.”
With the nation riveted by the question of Bales' motive for embarking on the alleged shooting spree, news emerged on Thursday that a U.S. defence official had said the number of fatalities was not 16, as the army had insisted it was for the past week, but 17. No explanation was provided yet for why the toll had risen.
Meanwhile media outlets managed to obtain court records that reportedly showed that Bales ad been prosecuted 10 years ago for assaulting a security guard at a casino in Tacoma, Washington state. “The charges, filed in local court there, were dismissed after Bales attended 20 hours of anger management courses,” a report in the Chicago Tribune noted.
In her blog, simply titled “The Bales Family,” Karilyn Bales had, until recently, written mainly about the joys of married life and the frustrations of being a military spouse. Yet her more recent entry was in stark contrast to these, as she spoke of the Afghan killings.
As reported by ABC News Mrs. Bales said, “What happened on the night of March 11 in Kandahar Province was a terrible and heartbreaking tragedy... My family including my and Bob's extended families are all profoundly sad. We extend our condolences to all the people of the Panjawai District, our hearts go out to all of them, especially to the parents, brothers, sisters and grandparents of the children who perished.”
She also asked for privacy, saying “Our family has little information beyond what we read and see in the media. What has been reported is completely out of character of the man I know and admire. Please respect me when I say I cannot shed any light on what happened that night, so please do not ask. I too want to know what happened. I want to know how this could be.”