The name of the American soldier who massacred and partially burnt last Sunday 16 Afghan civilians including nine children in the Panjwai shooting spree in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, and who had been rescued to Kuwait before Afghan authorities and judiciary could get hold of him, has been revealed yesterday. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales has meanwhile been transferred to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. As regards what is now known about Bales he seems to have a troubled career but rather typical history in the American armed forces.
The 38 years old husband and father of two who has served in multiple deployments in two US American wars during the last decade had suffered a traumatic head injury in a crash in Iraq and had lost part of a foot in an unrelated combat injury there. According to his attorney John Henry Brown he also might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder since he has seen “the day before this incidence” when one of his fellow soldiers lost a leg.
Democracy Now! has had a discussion yesterday with Neil Shea, frequently “embedded” journalist in Afghanistan and Iraq who has just published a piece (The Gathering Menace) in the Spring issue of The American Scholar shedding some “light on culture of mania and aggression in U.S. troops in Afghanistan”. What he describes is harmless in comparison with the massacre.
“Most soldierly stupidity does not amount to crime; most soldiers never commit atrocities. U.S. soldiers shooting at goats, for example, or pilots getting drunk on base, or guards threatening the lives of prisoners, all things I have seen, defy military rules and erode efforts to win hearts and minds. But how bad is it, really? Do we care? What is my responsibility when I see it? I have never found good ways to write about the subhuman wash of aggression and the small episodes of violence military men and women cycle through daily, or the choices they make in the midst of this.”
Shea describes the troubled personality of Staff Sergeant James Givens (not his real name) introducing him as one who has shot a pet dog in the face.
“Of course, we require our fighters to be ready hurricanes, on-call combat machines. We want them held easily in check, and we expect light-switch control over their aggression. Yet the Afghan war no longer relies so much on combat. The mission is nuanced, and future success, even sane withdrawal, demands Afghan cooperation. Soldiers like Givens, so barely restrained, their switches unreliable after years of war, undermine this. But we have no good method for dealing with men who grow too dangerous. We vaguely hope their anger does not spill over, or come home. It is not simple. My own reaction to the men of Destroyer (the name of the Platoon) is difficult. I liked them. I still want to believe they were merely full of bravado.”
Right now there is another inmate at Fort Leavenworth, Bradley Manning, the young US American soldier who was about to bungle his life in the illegal war in Iraq. Before he was transferred to Kansas he had been detained for ten months, since summer 2010, at the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Virginia in maximum-custody solitary confinement under inhumane, harsh and punitive conditions, as Amnesty International wrote in a letter addressing then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. An American hero for many, if allegations turn out to be true: providing WikiLeaks with the “Collateral Murder” video of the 12 July 2007 Baghdad helicopter airstrike, the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, 250’000 partially secret or classified U.S. diplomatic cables which have led to diplomatic complications all over the world and which might have sparked uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Arab world; and the Gitmo Files.
Obviously these two US American soldiers, Bales and Manning, cannot be more different.
Update. Bales’ home base near Tacoma, WA, Joint Base Lewis Mc-Chord (JBLMC), which has sent tens of thousands of young Americans into war during the last decade, seems to have “unusually serious problems ranging from violent episodes involving soldiers at home and in war zones to failings in the base’s command structure” as the Christian Science Monitor knows. A timeline of events at JBLMC has been published by the Seattle Times.