Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Evolving explanations on the Kandahar massacre - and the names of the victims

Robert Bales defense team and Army have a certain amount of common interest in presenting aspects of the accused shooter's story about the Kandahar massacre. The Army can be expected to try to minimize the extent to which the case raises broader questions about Army discipline, deployment practices, medical reviews and training. The Army has a long history of cover-ups in incidents like this, and there's no reason to think this one will be different in that regard. Bales' defense will presumably differ with them in that, because they will have to try to mitigate or deny Bales' own responsibility. That's something to keep in mind when we read things like this (Hal Bernton, Emerging portraits of Robert Bales changing debate on war Seattle Times 03/18/2012)

For nearly a week, the military kept a lid of secrecy over the Army soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers.

At the base south of Tacoma, officials advised Army families in his unit to stay quiet and admonished the press to respect their privacy.

At the Pentagon, senior officials leaked out selected details of the soldier's background even as they removed links to public-affairs articles that detailed some of his experiences in Iraq and his involvement in a training exercise in Afghanistan.

But as the week wore on, the Defense Department began to lose control of the flow of information about the suspect, and the portrait that emerged was of a soldier who earlier had performed with honor on the battlefield yet struggled on the homefront.
I'm not sure the latter spin actually shows the DoD losing control of the PR narrative; anything that offers alternative explanations to Pentagon mismanagement in this case probably is fine with them. But he does describe how the Pentagon was aiming at controlling the message, not transparency.

In other aspects of making Bales' alleged conduct more understandable that meet both the defense needs to mount a zealous defense of the suspect and the Pentagon's need to limit the reputational damage to the Army and justify an eventual mild sentence. Mike Carter reports in Accused soldier hazy about night of slayings, lawyer says Seattle Times 03/19/2012:

The Army staff sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians can't remember much of that night, according to his lawyer, revealing little about what the soldier's grieving wife on Monday called a "terrible and heartbreaking tragedy" for the families of the victims half a world away.

"Please respect me when I say I cannot shed any light on what happened that night, so please do not ask," wrote Karilyn Bales in a prepared statement. "I too want to know what happened." ...

"There are some things he remembers about that evening," [Emma] Scanlan [one of his attorneys] said in a telephone call from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where the Army's maximum-security brigade is located. "Other things, he doesn't."

New documents also emerged on Monday showing that Bales, before joining the Army, was involved in questionable investments at an Ohio brokerage that led to an arbitrated judgment against him of more than $1.5 million.
From the Pentagon's viewpoint, he-can't-remember fits with a narrative of individual crazy guy, as does news of financial problems not directly connected to his Army service.

Carter's report seems to deflate one other piece of information that has been floating out there, though, which would fit nicely into a Pentagon narrative of driven-nuts-by-the-evil-enemy:

On Monday, Browne revised a story that Bales had witnessed a friend lose his leg the day before the shootings. The incident took place two days before, Browne told The Associated Press, and he said Bales did not see it happen but witnessed the aftermath. The New York Times reported that one of the last messages sent to his wife referenced the incident, which has not been independently verified.
I'm guessing that the following formulation from an AP story is something would fit well into the the preferred Pentagon spin, as long as they can credible deny that the Army did or should have recognized stress or PTSD problems ahead of time (Allen Breed, Many willing to cut Afghan shooting suspect slack AP/Seattle Times 03/19/2012):

He is accused of the kind of crime that makes people shiver, the killing of families in their own homes under cover of night, the butchery of defenseless children. Under normal circumstances, Americans would dismiss such an act as worthy of only one response: swift and merciless punishment.

Not so in the case of Robert Bales - at least, not for some Americans.

So far, many seem willing to believe that a 10-year U.S. military veteran, worn down by four tours of combat and perhaps suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, simply snapped. That somehow there must be, if not an excuse, at least an explanation.
But the text of the article doesn't justify the headline. Talking about factors that may have increased the liklihood of such incidents is not the same as excusing Bates' actions, though his defense team would surely prefer for the jury to take things that way. This was an intriguing section:

Paul Wohlberg, who lives next door to the Baleses, said: "I just can't believe Bob's the guy who did this. A good guy got put in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Talk like that infuriates Fred Wellman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel from Fredericksburg, Va., who did three tours in Iraq. He said comments like those of Bales' neighbors and his attorney simply feed into the notion of "the broken veteran."

Wellman does not deny that 10 years of war have severely strained the service. But while others might see Bales as a wounded soul, Wellman sees a man who sneaked off base to commit his alleged crimes, then had the presence of mind to "lawyer up" as soon as he was caught.

"That may play well with certain circles of the civilian community, which doesn't understand our lives," Wellman said. "But he's going to be tried by a military court ... and chances are three or four of those guys had things happen to them, may have had three or four tours, may have lost people, may have been blown up. And NONE of them snapped and killed 16 people." He added: "It's just too easy, and a lot of us, we're not buying it."
I'm guessing that both the attorney and the Army had something to do with the wording of the statement that Bales' wife released, but I'm speculating there. I wouldn't criticize her directly for any of what was reported of her statement. (Wife of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales issues statement Seattle Times 03/19/2012) But I'm sure that both the defense and the DoD are more than happy to have the accused murderer appear in the most sympathetic light, as long as the specifics don't step on other important aspects of their preferred narratives. "What has been reported is completely out of character of the man I know and admire," probably serves both the defense and Pentagon PR narratives well.

One line of her statement, though, does raise an eyebrow: "I have no indication that my family's own safety is at risk, but I appreciate the efforts that have been undertaken to protect us." Why bother to include a line like that unless you wanted to put the suggestion out there that there have been threats?

On a different aspect, another AP report today explains that Bales in not in solitary confinement, as a previous report had suggested. A Ft. Leavenworth prison spokesperson said Bales is "already being integrated into the normal pretrial confinement routine."

Aljazeera English provides the names of the dead and wounded in the massacre in No one asked their names by Qais Azimy 03/19/2012:

But the victims became a footnote, an anonymous footnote. Just the number 16. No one bothered to ask their ages, their hobbies, their aspirations. Worst of all, no one bothered to ask their names.

In honoring their memory, I write their names below, and the little we know about them: that nine of them were children, three were women.

The dead:
Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Nazar Mohamed
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali

The wounded:
Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim

Tags: ,

No comments: