TACOMA, Wash. — U.S. military officials finally named the suspect in the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who was brought late Friday to the military detention facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to face murder charges.
Pentagon officials had previously offered only a few details of the suspect's life: a 38-year-old married father of two, a 10-year Army veteran who served three tours in Iraq, who deployed to Afghanistan in December with the Army's 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
In the complex portrait that emerged from public records and Internet postings Friday following the release of his name, Bales was hurt about being passed over for a military promotion, and as a civilian had brushes with the law and spent time in anger management. He pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in 2002 and was cited for a misdemeanor hit-and-run incident in 2008, for which he paid a $250 fine and received a deferred 12-month sentence.
He also was portrayed, on his wife Karilyn's blog, as a caring father who was on military duty when his first child, a daughter, was born in December 2006. He was apparently eager to know the baby's gender before birth, and teased his wife about withholding phone calls from abroad unless she told him.
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"Bob on the other hand cannot stand to wait for anything," Karilyn wrote on her blog in May 2006. "Patience is not one of his virtues, especially when it comes to surprises. He simply cannot wait for the surprise to come."
In March 2011, Bales wrote that her husband Bob didn't get a promotion to "E7," which in the Army is the rank of sergeant 1st class. "It is very disappointed (sic) after all of the work Bob has done and all the sacrifices he has made for his love of his country, family and friends. I am sad and disappointed too, but I am also relieved, we can finally move on to the next phase of our lives."
The family was getting ready to move that summer 2011 and hoped that the Army would allow them some say over where they went. The couple was hoping to be stationed in Germany, Italy, Hawaii or Kentucky to "be near Bob's family" or Georgia "to be a sniper teacher," she wrote.
Records in Pierce County, Wash., show that Bales and his wife Karilyn listed their home in the Lake Tapps area for sale four days ago, on March 12.
The dearth of information provided by the U.S. military since the massacre in the southern province of Kandahar took place last Sunday has fed the fears and theories of Afghans, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai accusing the United States on Friday of withholding details and refusing to cooperate with Afghan investigators.
According to Afghan accounts and some press reports, he's a rogue soldier who trudged from hut to hut in two remote Afghan villages picking out women and children to shoot, stab, kill.
Pentagon officials have said that the suspect, who was deployed at a small combat outpost in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, walked off the base after midnight on Sunday and shot 16 Afghans, including 9 children, in two villages in the Panjway district.
Bales' Seattle attorney, John Henry Browne, said that his client and his wife weren't happy about his most recent deployment, for which he received very little notice. "He was told he was not going to be redeployed," the lawyer told a news conference Thursday. "He and his family were told his tours in the Middle East were over. Literally, overnight, that changed."
Browne said another soldier at the small outpost in southern Afghanistan had been gravely wounded the day before the massacre, and that other soldiers were deeply affected by it. He added that his client had suffered a concussive head injury in Iraq in 2010 and had been screened for that injury at Madigan Army Medical Center before he left for Afghanistan in December.
Pentagon officials have described the suspect's army career as "unremarkable," but Browne said his client had received numerous awards during his military service, been wounded twice and that "there were no prior events in his dossier indicating any kind of misbehavior."
His civilian life wasn't as spotless.
In July 2002, Bales pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor criminal assault charge in Tacoma, Wash., municipal court. The court deferred the charge for six months after Bales agreed to comply with court-ordered conditions.
He completed 20 hours of anger management, complied with a no-contact order with the alleged victim, had no other law violations in six months and paid a $300 fine, court records show. The court dismissed the charge against Bales in February 2003.
Court records show that Bales was cited for a misdemeanor hit-and-run incident in October 2008 in Sumner, Wash. He received a deferred 12-month sentence, and paid a fine of $250, which led to a dismissal of the charges.
Records state that Bales was spotted on Oct. 11, 2008, running from an accident scene shortly after midnight on the Sumner-Tapps Highway. It was a single-car rollover accident, records state. No other drivers were involved.
Witnesses reported seeing "a white male wearing military-style uniform, shaved head and bleeding," fleeing on foot and running into nearby woods. A police officer spoke to Bales, the owner of the car, who said he had fallen asleep behind the wheel.
Bales last Iraq deployment was Aug. 9, 2009, according to a statement on his wife's blog.
In a 2009 article on the Army website that was erased online — but still available in a cached Google version — a Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is quoted describing the Battle of Zarqa, a January 2007 operation to recover a downed Apache helicopter south of the city of Najaf.
Bales, identified in the article as a team leader in C Company's 1st Squad, describes a battle remembered both for its humanitarian component as well as its military execution. He spoke of carrying injured civilians to safety: "We'd go in, find some people that we could help, because there were a bunch of dead people we couldn't, throw them on a litter and bring them out to the casualty collection point."
Later, Bales said, "I've never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day.... for the simple fact that we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us. I think that's the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm's way like that."
(Carson and Carfazzo report for the Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune. Schofield of the McClatchy Washington Bureau reported from Washington. McClatchy special correspondent Stephenson contributed from Kabul, Afghanistan. Also contributing were Marisa Taylor of the Washington Bureau and Sean Robinson, Steve Maynard, Lewis Kamb, Kathleen Cooper, Sue Kidd, Jeff Mayor and Adam Lynn of the News Tribune.)
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For more coverage visit McClatchy's Afghanistan and Pakistan page.