The American perspective on a murderer

Robert Bales’s killings of 17 Afghans have been overlooked by the unapologetic media — this needs to change

On March 11, Robert Bales, a 38 year old US soldier, was charged with 17 counts of murder for the deaths of 17 Afghans: nine children, three women, and four men, in the village of Balandi and Alkozai near Camp Belamby. Bales is currently being held in a maximum-security military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he will be tried for his counts of murders and other violations in an Article 32 Hearing. He will likely receive a lifetime prison sentence.

On March 12, the witnesses from the village were interviewed. They recounted that Bales charged into three different homes, shot the family members inside, and set their bodies on fire. Setting corpses on fire is considered a desecration to bodies in Islam. Eleven of the dead were from one family.

But Americans did not read this story — no, the story they saw was quite different.

On March 11, after the public caught wind of Bales’s murders, Bales’s attorney, John Henry Browne, released a statement about Bales’s state-of-mind during his time of the committing the crime. “He was taking medications, but we don’t know whether it was aspirin, heart medicine. We don’t know what it was.”

But specifically, Bales’s lawyer pointed to Bales’s unstable emotional states. Earlier this week, Browne told the press that Bales “suffered tremendous depression” after enduring a traumatic brain injury during his third deployment (he was currently on his fourth). There are no reports of illness of Bales’s mental health, but Browne is already setting up a plead for insanity for him. The problem is that this is the what Americans see first. This is an unproven and possibly inaccurate profile of Bales. From these testimonials, viewers are left with the impression that Bales’s actions were unintentional. The media paints Bales as a soldier suffering from PTSD — that he was merely stressed, and took it out on 17 people.

The follow-up interviews highlighted Bales’s family and neighbors. USA Today spoke with his wife, Karilyn Bales. She says that her husband joined the Army because he wanted to “protect his family, friends and country. He wanted to do his part,” she said. “He loves children, he’s like a big kid himself.”

In Associated Press, Bales’s neighbor, Kassie Holland, says that Bales is a family man, often seen playing with his two kids, daughter, Quincy, and son, Bobby, in front of his home. Another neighbor, Paul Wohlberg, says that Bales is “a good guy got put in the wrong place at the wrong time… I never thought something like this would happen to him.” Bales is now no longer the soldier with bloodied hands, but the American dad rolling with his kids on his front lawn. With an instilled frame of humanity, the media has now spun the Bales’s murders with biased implausibility.

We are made to judge a troubled soldier, a good husband, and an affable neighbor, instead of a criminal. But Robert Bales has gone into a village in Afghanistan and killed 17 people.

Had he been drunk when he made that first kill? Had he been suffering from headaches when he made the second kill? Had he just not been himself when he made the third kill? Had he been the family man who loves children when he took out those kids with bullets to the head? All the way up to that seventeenth kill, was he merely upset from missing his wife, stressed, or confused?

There is a clear disconnect with how we should think of Bales and who is actually was in the time he committed his murders. The American media unequivocally took his defense by paying journalistic attention to his background as an American, and not to the crime itself. In effect, the slain Afghans were blurred out of the picture. The only justice done to them was “17 Afghans were killed.”

When we think of what happened in this village, we should not think of Bales. We should think about the fear on the villagers’ faces when they saw this armed American soldier come out from middle of the night, point his gun at them, and shoot down person after person relentlessly, without reason. We should think of that moment when they feel betrayed by the soldiers who set their base nearby, who had represented themselves as peaceful officers. We should think of the tears shed by their families, by their friends, and by their neighbors, and of their unresolved sadness of having their loved ones die.

These murders follow the murders in 2010, in which four Lewis-McChord soldiers were convicted for killings of three Afghan civilians, and this year for NATO burning the Qurans eliciting a pandemonium of protests. Many injustices were done to Afghans without any true retribution for them. This is because the American media itself is not apologetic. That needs to change.

So here’s the media changing that: We should not mourn for Bales. We should mourn for the men, women and children whose lives Bales took away.

Steve Lee about 9 years ago

Thank you for this. I have all but lost hope in the ability of the American media to muster up compassion.

Brenda Koehler about 9 years ago

"A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself." - Joseph Pulitzer

The coverage of these murders by the American press has been shameful and if Bales had not been found to have defrauded an elderly couple of their life savings, I'm sure the media would have flooded us with still more glowing accounts of his purported heroism and self-sacrifice. It's extremely sickening.

His wife was on TV and only came close to crying when she talked about how her plans to move were ruined by his being redeployed to Afghanistan. She never came close to crying over the children who were killed. That about sums up the overall attitude to this massacre in the US.