Bales at the Fort Irwin National Training Center in August 2011
June 30, 1973 |
Norwood, Ohio, U.S.
|Alma mater||Ohio State University|
|Occupation||U.S. Army soldier|
|Criminal penalty||Life in prison without parole|
|Date||March 11, 2012
|Location(s)||Balandi and Alkozai villages of Afghanistan|
|Weapons||M4 carbine and M9 sidearm; some victims were found with both gunshot and stab wounds.|
Robert Bales (born June 30, 1973) is a former United States Army soldier who murdered 16 Afghan civilians in Panjwayi, Kandahar, Afghanistan, on March 11, 2012 – an event known as the Kandahar massacre.
In order to avoid the death penalty, Bales plead guilty to 16 counts of murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder in a plea deal. On August 23, 2013, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Early life and education
Bales was born on June 30, 1973, and raised in Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, the youngest of five brothers. He attended Norwood High School. After high school Bales briefly enrolled at College of Mount St. Joseph, then transferred to Ohio State University, where he studied economics for three years, but left without graduating in 1996.
After leaving college, Bales worked as a stockbroker at five financial services firms in Columbus, Ohio. The firms were related, sharing employees and corporate offices. During that period, while employed with Michael Patterson, Inc., Bales and the firm engaged in fraudulent securities activities. An arbitration panel later found both Bales and his employer liable for financial fraud related to the handling of a retirement account and ordered them to pay $1.4 million in civil damages. Gary Liebschner, the victim, said he "never got paid a penny" of the award. According to Liebschner's lawyer, they had not pursued legal action against Bales to collect the judgment because they were unable to locate Bales, who had joined the U.S. Army 18 months after the long-running arbitration case was filed.
In May 1999, while still employed with a securities firm in Ohio, Bales, his brother Mark, and Marc Edwards co-founded a financial services firm named Spartina Investments in Doral, Florida. The state dissolved Spartina in September 2000, after the company failed to file its annual report in a timely manner.
Bales enlisted in the U.S. Army in November 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks. He was initially assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in Fort Lewis. He completed three tours in the Iraq War: twelve months in 2003 and 2004, fifteen months in 2006 and 2007, and ten months in 2009 and 2010. During the 2007 tour he reportedly injured his foot in the Battle of Najaf, and during the 2010 tour he was treated for traumatic brain injury after his vehicle was rolled in an accident.
According to public records Bales had been involved in incidents while stationed at Fort Lewis which had resulted in the police responding. In 2002 he got into a fight with a security guard at a Tacoma area casino and was charged with misdemeanor criminal assault, but the charge was dismissed after he paid a small fine and attended anger management classes. Another confrontation outside of a bar in 2008 was also reported to police, but no charges were filed.
Bales was promoted to staff sergeant on April 1, 2008. On February 1, 2012, he was assigned to Camp Belambai in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan, where he was responsible for providing base security for U.S. Army Special Forces and U.S. Navy SEALs who were engaged in village stability operations.
On the night of March 11, 2012, 16 Afghan civilians (nine children—some as young as two years old—four women and three men) were shot and killed in the villages of Balandi and Alkozai near Camp Belambai. On March 24, U.S. Army investigators said Bales was the only person responsible for the shootings and the deaths were the result of two separate attacks. Investigators said Bales returned to Camp Belambai after the first attack and left the camp an hour later to commit the second attack.
A senior military official said Bales had been drinking alcohol with two other soldiers on the night of the shootings, in violation of military rules in combat zones. According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Bales acknowledged the killings and "told individuals what happened" immediately after being captured. Minutes later he refused to speak with investigators and asked for an attorney. Bales' civilian attorney John Henry Browne, later said, "I don't know that the government is going to prove much. There's no forensic evidence. There's no confession." However, in May 2013, Browne said his client would confess to the massacre in return for avoiding the death penalty.
After his arrest, Bales was transferred out of Afghanistan, stopping at a U.S. military base in Kuwait. His stop in Kuwait upset the Kuwaiti government as they heard about the Bales case from news reports before hearing from the U.S. government. According to an unnamed official: "When they learned about it, the Kuwaitis blew a gasket and wanted him out of there."
On 16 March 2012, Bales was flown from Kuwait to the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. According to U.S. Army Colonel James Hutton, Chief of Media Relations, Bales was being held in special housing in his own cell and was able to go outside the cell "for hygiene and recreational purposes".
On 23 March 2012, the U.S. government charged Bales with seventeen counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder, and six counts of assault.
On 1 June 2012, the government dropped one of the murder charges, because one victim had been double counted. Simultaneously, other charges were filed including abuse of steroids, alcohol consumption, and attempting to destroy evidence. Assault charges were increased from six to seven.
Civilian attorney John Henry Browne defended Bales with assigned military lawyers. Browne was retained by the sergeant's family and has described Bales as "mild-mannered", and claims his client was upset after seeing a friend's leg blown off the day before the killings, but held no animosity toward Muslims. "I think the message for the public in general is that he's one of our boys and they need to treat him fairly." Browne has denied the deadly rampage was caused by alcohol intoxication or marital problems and said Bales was "reluctant to serve." According to Browne, Bales did not want to return to the front lines. Browne said, "He wasn't thrilled about going on another deployment ... he was told he wasn't going back, and then he was told he was going." Browne also criticized anonymous reports from government officials, stating "the government is going to want to blame this on an individual rather than blame it on the war."
Bales had no history of mental disorder, and had undergone an extensive mental health screening to become a sniper in 2008. In 2010, he suffered a concussion in a car accident, underwent traumatic brain injury treatment at Fort Lewis, and was deemed healthy. Investigators examining his medical history described his ten-year U.S. Army tenure as "unremarkable" and found no evidence of serious traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress. A high-ranking U.S. official told The New York Times, "When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues—he just snapped." However, Bales had been taking an anti-malaria medication now known to cause a wide range of side effects including psychiatric.
As part of the legal proceedings, an Article 32 hearing was held November 5–13, 2012, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The hearing included eyewitnesses testimony from Afghanistan via a live video link; Bales did not testify. The hearing concluded with prosecutors requesting the death penalty.
On May 29, 2013, it was announced Bales would plead guilty (thereby avoiding the death penalty) and describe the events of March 11, 2012. On June 5, Bales pleaded guilty in a plea deal to 16 counts of murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder. When asked by Judge Col. Jeffery Nance "What was your reason for killing them?", he said he had asked himself that question "a million times" and added, "There’s not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did." He maintained he didn't recall setting bodies on fire, but admitted the evidence was clear that he had. He said he'd taken the steroids solely to be "huge and jacked" and blamed them for "definitely" increasing his irritability and anger.
At the sentencing hearing, defense attorneys argued for a sentence of life with the possibility of parole, arguing that he was a troubled man who snapped, not a "cold-blooded murderer". Bales took to the stand to issue an apology to his victims, saying he would bring them back to life if he could. Lt. Col Jay Morse, who is a member of the US Army Trial Counsel Assistance Program, was the lead prosecutor in the Bales case. The prosecution, seeking life without the possibility of parole, closed their arguments with: "In just a few short hours, Sgt. Bales wiped out generations. Sgt. Bales dares to ask you for mercy when he has shown none."
On August 23, a six-person jury sentenced Bales to life in prison without parole. He was also demoted to the lowest enlisted rank, dishonorably discharged and will forfeit all pay and allowances. A commanding general overseeing the court-martial has the option of reducing the sentence to life with the possibility of parole. Afghan villagers and the families of Bales' victims were upset by the decision, saying he deserved death. Bales is incarcerated at United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.
The Bales family was struggling financially and had put its home up for sale three days before the shootings. The property was listed for $229,000, approximately $50,000 less than what they had paid for it in 2005, and less than what they owed the bank.
Awards and decorations
- Revoked after dishonorable discharge
- "Soldier Gets Life Without Parole in Deaths of Afghan Civilians". The New York Times. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
- U.S. Public Records Index Vol 1 (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.), 2010.
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