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November 5, 2012 at 4:05 PM
Update: After allegedly killing Afghan civilians in a first village, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales came back to his combat outpost. At around 2 a.m., he flipped on the light switch in the quarters of some other soldiers and began talking about what he had done and where he was headed, according to the testimony of Sgt. Jason McClaughlin.
Bales said he had killed some military-age males, McClaughlin testified. Then, Bales drew up close and asked McLaughlin to smell his gun. “His weapon was right in front of my face,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin said he reacted with disbelief.
Bales left McLaughlin’s quarters but soon returned, according to the testimony. This time, Bales said he was heading to a second village, and would be back by around 5 a.m. “Then he takes my hands, and says ‘take care of my kids,’” recalled McLaughlin.
“And, I’m like , ‘no, Bob, take of your own kids.’ ”
After Bales left, McLaughlin said, he drifted back off to sleep, then woke shortly before 3 a.m. to take a scheduled turn at guard duty. When he got to the guard post, McLaughlin said, another soldier reported hearing gun shots outside the outpost during his time on watch.
About five minutes later, Afghan soldiers arrived with an interpreter. They told told him about a soldier who had come back to the base, and then left.
McLaughlin said he then recalled his earlier conversation with Bales, and feared the sergeant might be that soldier.
“I ran to see if Staff Sgt. Bales was in his room,” McLaughlin testified.
He found the door open, and the light on.
“Staff Sgt. Bales wasn’t there,” McLaughlin testified.
Update: Cpl. David Godwin, a 3rd Brigade soldier, testified that he was one of the first to meet Staff Sgt. Robert Bales outside the base gate when Bales returned from what prosecutors allege was a killing spree in an Afghan village.
Godwin described Bales’ demeanor as “kind of like he got his hand caught in the cookie jar. ” Godwin also quoted Bales as saying: “I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Godwin said Bale’s response “… was kind of surreal. I kind of thought that Bob (Bales) thought … he was doing this to better us.”
Godwin served under Bales and was one of the soldiers who had been drinking with him on March 10, the night before the killings. Godwin testified that Bales and a third soldier had the equivalent of one or two shots of whiskey and that they were not seriously impaired or slurring their words.
While they drank, Godwin said, they watched the 2004 movie “Man on Fire,” which stars Denzel Washington in a thriller involving a former CIA operative turned bodyguard who goes on a killing rampage after a child is abducted.
After they finished drinking, Godwin said he accompanied Bales to his quarters, and thought that he was going to go to bed.
Somewhere between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. the next morning , Godwin was woken up by another soldier. He and another soldier went outside the gate of the outpost and called for Bales. Sometime before 5 a.m,, Godwin said he saw Bales walking down a road that led to the base.
The hearing for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales opened Monday morning with the Army prosecutor offering a chilling summary of the events of March 11, when Bales allegedly murdered 16 Afghan villagers, mostly women and children.
Lt. Col. Joseph Morse said that testimony at the pretrial hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will show that Bales was deliberate, methodical and “lucid and coherent” as he went on a killing spree during a five-hour period. Bales, a Lewis-McChord infantryman who was assisting a Special Forces unit, returned to a small base in the Kandahar District of Afghanistan shortly before 5 a.m., according to the prosecutor.
Prior to leaving the base, Bales had been drinking Jack Daniels and Diet Pepsi with other soldiers and had a conversation with a Special Forces soldier expressing his concerns that the unit had not responded forcefully enough to an IED attack.
According to the timeline laid out by the prosecutor, Bales first walked some 600 meters north to murder civilians in one village. Then, he returned to the base and even told one soldier that “I just shot some people.” But that soldier thought Bales was kidding, and did not act to restrain him.
Then Bales exited the the base a second time, and finished off the shootings, according to the prosecutor.
A video surveillance camera from a helium balloon captured images of Bales, with a cape across his shoulder, approaching the base and being apprehended.
Morse said Bales appeared surprised by his detention.
His first reaction was, “Are you (expletive) kidding me,” Morse said. According to the prosecutor, Bales also asked a Special Forces soldier, “Did you rat me out?”
Morse says that Bales repeatedly confessed to the murders after his return to the base. The prosecutor said Bales did not show remorse but did fear that his actions might have let down the Special Forces unit he was assigned to in Afghanistan.
Morse said the evidence against Bales also includes a DNA match of blood from one of the female victims on the boots, pants and underwear worn by Bales.
March 12, 2012 at 10:29 AM
UPDATE: 4:43 p.m.
As the national and international press continues to report on the Afghan killings, more attention is being focused on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, now increasingly described in broadcast, Internet and print reports as the most troubled base in the U.S.
Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton’s story today, and much of his previous reporting, touched on many of the problems — and some of the stories reported by the national media draw from that story and another that ran in 2010 in the Stars and Stripes.
“As authorities investigate the circumstances of the deaths, international attention has turned to Lewis-McChord, a military base with a troubled and bloody history,” ABC Nightline reports. The news site has posted eight “infamous incidents” involving soldiers from Lewis-McChord on its website.
The Los Angeles Times is also describing the base as “one of the most troubled in the army.” CBS News correspondent Ben Tracey is describing it as “one of the most troubled in the entire U.S. military.” The U.K.’s Guardian describes Lewis-McChord as “no stranger to scandal.” And the International Business Times is running a lengthy timeline of problems at Lewis-McChord under the headline “Afghanistan shooting timeline: What’s really happening at Joint Base Lewis-McChord”.
Other headlines: “Afghan suspect’s US base ‘most troubled’” (Fox News), “Massacre another chapter of shame for the US military’s ‘most troubled’ base” (Sydney Morning Herald), “The Troubles at Joint Base Lewis-McChord” (KUOW).
UPDATE 3:42 p.m.
Seattle Times reporter Sandi Doughton reports from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where the mood is uneasy and journalists outnumber customers at some shops:
Many uniformed personnel shrugged off questions about the shootings in Afghanistan. Those who discussed it said they fear the consequences for their fellow troops in-country.
“I’m worried another war might break out,” said Specialist Eric Windley, of Connecticut. “They are going to retaliate.”
Coffee Strong, a pro-troop, anti-war Internet cafe near the base, had planned to hold a vigil for the 16 Afghans killed, but has since dropped those plans for fear it would be taken as a criticism of the thousands of soldiers at the base who did nothing wrong.
UPDATE: 2:56 p.m.
In two interviews with CBS News affiliates Monday, President Obama told why he doesn’t think the shooting of Afghan civilians on Sunday should prompt the U.S. to speed up its exit from Afghanistan.
“I think it’s important for us just to make sure that we are not … in Afghanistan longer than we need to be,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with Denver CBS affiliate KCNC television.
In a separate interview with Pittsburgh CBS affiliate KDKA, Mr Obama said, “it’s important for us to make sure that we get out in responsible way, so that we don’t end up having to go back in…but what we don’t want to do is to do it in a way that is just a rush for the exits.”
Meanwhile, Republican candidate Newt Gingrich has said he thinks the U.S. should leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. Candidate Mitt Romney has been critical of Obama for not being more clear about the mission’s goals, but this Washington Post analysis describes his position as not too different from Obama’s.
“As the past days have shown, Republicans face a debate within their party over what to do about a conflict whose objectives are so difficult to define and whose costs have been enormous,” Washington Post reporter Dan Balz wrote.
UPDATE 2:30 p.m.
CNN is reporting that the soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghans was a trained infantry sniper, and that he was injured in a roll-over accident in 2010 in Iraq, suffering a traumatic brain injury. However, he was found fit for duty.
CNN also reports that his family has been moved on to Joint Base Lewis-McChord for their safety.
UPDATE: 2:10 p.m.
A military defense attorney told MSNBC Monday that the solider accused of killing 16 Afghans near Kandahar could face the death penalty. The report described it as “one of the worst cases of alleged mass murder by a U.S. service member since the Vietnam War.”
“Based on what we’re hearing I suspect this will be prosecuted as a death penalty case,” Philip Cave, a Washington-based military defense attorney told msnbc.com. “You’ve got felony murder, and certainly the number of victims and the circumstances -– very young children as victims –- I think there will be sufficient grounds to move forward as a death penalty case.”
UPDATE: 1:47 p.m.
Seattle Times military reporter Hal Bernton, who covered the trial of Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs in 2011, said one of the major differences between Gibbs’ crimes and the killings Sunday is that the media had immediate access to the scene in Kandahar.
Watch a video from Pajhwok Afghan News showing aftermath of attack (Warning: graphic images):
Gibbs was convicted in the killing of three unarmed Afghan civilians on three separate occasions. All three killings occurred in remote areas of Afghanistan, and were covered up.
“We didn’t hear about those crimes until well after the fact,” said Bernton, who also knows Afghanistan first-hand — he was embedded with one of the Stryker brigades in 2010.
In the case of the killing Sunday, journalists “learned about it right away and were able to travel to the crime scene,” he said. Not only were reporters able to interview witnesses immediately, but they were also able to take photos of the scene of the crime.
UPDATE: 12:29 p.m.
The Army staff sergeant who allegedly went on a rampage and killed 16 Afghans as they slept in their homes had a traumatic brain injury at one point and had problems at home after his last deployment, officials told ABC News.
An official told ABC News that the soldier has suffered a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the past, either from hitting his head on the hatch of a vehicle or in a car accident. He went through the advanced TBI treatment at Fort Lewis and was deemed to be fine.
He also underwent mental health screening necessary to become a sniper and passed in 2008. He had routine behavioral health screening after that and was cleared, the official said.
According to the report, the man was also having marital troubles.
Here’s video from ABC News:
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The Today File is a general news blog featuring real-time coverage of Seattle and the Northwest. It is reported by the news staff of The Seattle Times and edited by Assistant Metro Editor Nick Provenza.
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