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U.S. military identifies ‘killer' soldier

Narayan Lakshman
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He has post-traumatic stress disorder, says attorney

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales in this August 2011 photo.— Photo: AP
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales in this August 2011 photo.— Photo: AP

The U.S. Army has identified the soldier allegedly behind the killing of 16 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales (38) from Lake Tapps near the Tacoma area of Washington State.

Sergeant Bales is currently being held in solitary pre-trial confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, home to another well-known prisoner, Private Bradley Manning, accused of supplying government data to WikiLeaks. On Friday, officials confirmed that Sergeant Bales had been flown out of Kuwait, even as Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed outrage at his removal from Afghan soil.

The Staff Sergeant, who is said to have gone on a shooting spree after walking off his base in Kandahar Province's Panjwai district, is a father of two. According to reports, his wife and children were moved from their home in Lake Tapps to Joint Base Lewis-McChord earlier this week for their safety.

With reports suggesting that in most cases the victims had either been shot or stabbed and then set on fire, passions have run high in Afghanistan since last weekend and Mr. Karzai openly accused the U.S. of not adequately cooperating on an investigation.

While the Obama administration has indicated that this would not set back U.S. plans to draw down troops by 2014, there is a strong perception that, combined with the Koran-burning incident last month, U.S.-Afghan relations are in a tail-spin.

Possible motives

Meanwhile Sergeant Bales' attorney, John Henry Browne, said his client had joined the U.S. Army shortly after the 9/11 attacks and was assigned to the Third Stryker Brigade in the Second Infantry Division. The New York Times quoted an unnamed U.S. government official who discussed possible motives for the violent killings saying 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,” the official added. Mr. Browne however dismissed allegations of alcohol and domestic issues, attributing Sergeant Bales' stress to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to reports.

Describing PTSD as a mitigating factor Mr. Browne was quoted as saying “It is commonly used in military defence.” He noted that Sergeant Bales was unhappy about returning to combat after being wounded twice in Iraq.

According to the U.S. Army, Sergeant Bales spent 37 months on three separate deployments in Iraq between 2003 and 2010, and Mr. Browne said Sergeant Bales “had seen a comrade's leg blown off the day before the massacre.”


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