By Vladimir Gladkov
The US government plans to bring official charges against the soldier who went on a shooting rampage in Afghanistan. The soldier, identified as Robert Bales, will face trial on the territory of the United States.
The Bales case is surrounded by a lot of controversy. Some reports say that the White House is planning to pay compensation to the victims’ families, while witnesses claim that several US servicemen took part in the killings. As relations between Kabul and Washington become strained to the limit, Afghanistan might interpret the measures which are being taken by the American government as an attempt to play the whole incident down.
The shooting spree on the part of a US army sergeant whose identity was disclosed last Friday crossed out years-long efforts by Kabul and Washington to establish a stable partnership. Even though Afghanistan became one of the US’ major allies in combating terrorism, the relationship between the two countries was far from cloudless. The government of Afghanistan, unable to counter the growing threat from the Taliban without the US, came under scathing criticism from the public and religious leaders.
Killings of civilians in the course of US operations in Afghanistan played into the hands of the Taliban, contributing to their already effective propaganda campaign. Religious rows added yet more fuel to the fire. A number of mass protests rolled through the country in February following the burning of Korans at an American military base. Robert Bales plunged into an indiscriminate shooting as the conflict over the Koran burning reached its peak. He killed 16 civilians, including 9 children and 3 women who were sleeping in their homes.
Washington was thus faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, the extradition of Bales to the Afghan authorities, or at least holding the hearings on his case on the territory of Afghanistan, could save the US from a complete break-up with Afghanistan. On the one hand, American society, which is keen on saving US citizens from being extradited, would hardly approve of such a decision. Therefore, holding hearings on the territory of the US appears to be a compromise but will hardly please Afghanistan, which wants the harshest punishment for the killer.
Meanwhile, US investigators and their Afghan colleagues have been at odds over a whole number of points. Afghanistan doubts that the murders were perpetrated by one man because the killings took place in two neighboring villages simultaneously. Villagers say that they saw between 16 and 20 American soldiers. One of the village elders says the same. At the same time, the soldiers could have been searching for Bales. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has already accused the Pentagon of unwillingness to cooperate with Afghan investigators.
The carnage which was unleashed by Bales became yet another instance of incompetence and unprofessionalism of the US military command. Reuters reports say that Bales received a brain injury in Iraq in 2010 but was nevertheless declared fit for further military service in hot spots. Significantly, Bales underwent medical checks and a rehabilitation course at the infamous Lewis-McChord base. In 2010 soldiers assigned to this base were found guilty of the murder of Afghan civilians and of using their organs as military trophies. Last year, Lewis-McChord failed an expert scrutiny into its ability to diagnose brain injuries and psychiatric disorders. Bales’ lawyer says that the sergeant did not want to go to Afghanistan after three assignments to Iraq.
Three years ago, Bales was interviewed by Northwest Guardian as one of the participants of an armed standoff in the Iraqi city of Zarqa. Back then he said that he was proud of the US troops which had succeeded in preventing loss of live among civilians. Judging by news reports and neighbors’ accounts and according to Bales’ former commanders, he is open and optimistic but could have been devastated by his worsening health and financial problems. However, these statements, like conflicting reports that Washington is planning to pay compensation to the relatives of the dead, can hardly satisfy Afghanistan, whose people demand a fair trial against the murderer.