Robert Bales gets life without parole

posted at 4:01 pm on August 24, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

With all of the discussions taking place around the web concerning Nidal Hasan and Bradley Manning, (sorry… still not calling you Chelsea) it was easy to overlook yet another military trial which came to a close this week. Robert Bales reached the end of the sentencing phase in his trial, held at an Army base in Washington state. As you will recall, Bales is the US soldier who admitted to leaving his post in Panjwai, Kandahar, going into two neighboring villages and shooting a large number of Afghan locals, including nine children and four women. Having already plead guilty to avoid the possibility of the death penalty, the jury decided Bales would be spending the rest of his life in prison.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty to killing 16 Afghans in a shooting spree last year, was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole, legally closing an episode of one of the worst atrocities of the Afghanistan war.

Jurors deliberated for less than two hours after hearing closing arguments Friday morning at the sentencing hearing for Bales, who pleaded guilty in June to avoid the death penalty. A jury of six soldiers was asked to decide if Bales deserved a sentence of life in prison or the possibility of parole after 20 years…

Defense attorney Emma Scanlan acknowledged the atrocities, but asked jurors to weigh his earlier honorable record in the military and give him a “sliver of light” with a sentence that had the possibility of parole.

From the beginning, the only word I’ve had for this case was “sad.” The original incident was a tragedy, the events leading up to it – and the missed opportunities to prevent it – were terrible and the end of this trial was just … sad. I also have to wonder if Bales had the best legal representation he might have gotten. The guilty plea was understandable, but his attorney, John Henry Browne, never even brought up the PTSD angle during the sentencing phase. In fact, he said the following:

“We didn’t want to open that door,” Mr. Browne said, “because then, you get into a battle of the experts. I don’t think juries like that.”

We can neither ignore nor dismiss what Bales did, as he was clearly far outside of the rules of engagement. But even if bringing up the medical issues involved didn’t wind up reducing his maximum possible sentence, it might have at least ensured that he would get the treatment he needs while incarcerated. The defense had what they described as “a ton of documentation” regarding the soldier’s mental state, and the warning signs had been there for a while. Bales had already done three tours in Iraq totaling 37 months before going to Kandahar and was treated for traumatic brain injury following an accident in 2010. He was in a place where everyone was under constant stress, including seeing people who were supposedly our allies and comrades in arms strolling into camp and blowing themselves up. He’d run into problems readjusting to civilian environments in between tours, having gotten in trouble with the law for fighting and sought treatment for anger issues and related problems. Why the defense found this not worthy of mentioning seems questionable.

But if nothing else, the sad story of Robert Bales should at least serve as a reminder to the rest of us regarding the type of support our troops need and deserve, not just while serving, but afterwards as well. The vast, vast majority of our combat veterans deal with the stress of combat and come out of it okay after conducting themselves honorably throughout their service. But they are still human, and some of them won’t manage that feat. There is help available through the VA, though some may need a nudge to seek it out. Private groups offer support as well, including such diverse programs as matching up veterans with pets to help provide some furry therapy. Bales may never set foot outside of prison as a free man again, but it’s not a story we should just ignore.

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Comment pages: 1 2 3

Liam on August 24, 2013 at 5:55 PM

Having a legitimate civilian career would have helped him avoid all this, yeah.

Armin Tamzarian on August 24, 2013 at 5:57 PM

Are you saying being a member of the Armed Forces isn’t a legitimate career?

smoothsailing on August 25, 2013 at 6:45 AM

No, it’s not a legitimate civilian career. You know what that word means, right? Civilian?

Armin Tamzarian on August 25, 2013 at 1:17 PM

Armin Tamzarian on August 25, 2013 at 1:17 PM

Everybody doesn’t need to be civilians and not all civilians can get jogs. Why is that?

Cindy Munford on August 25, 2013 at 1:28 PM

Terrible thing. His country asked more than most folks could take and then treat him as disposable. He will have to serve a while, but I do believe he has a commutation in his future if his story is kept alive.

Southernblogger on August 25, 2013 at 2:32 PM

No, it’s not a legitimate civilian career. You know what that word means, right? Civilian?

Armin Tamzarian on August 25, 2013 at 1:17 PM

Yes, I know what the word means. You do understand the implication one would draw by you injecting the word “legitimate” into your description?

smoothsailing on August 25, 2013 at 2:57 PM

the brain injury.
given malaria meds when he wasn’t supposed to.
why was he allowed to deploy ?
this all could have been prevented if existing protocols were followed.

dmacleo on August 25, 2013 at 3:33 PM

The acts in Kandahar occurred March 11, 2012. It took less than 18 months to try and convict Bales.

The Jihadist mass murder by terrorist Nidal Hasan occurred on November 5, 2009. It took nearly four years to get conviction.

Apparently the system finds it a lot harder to convict a terrorist killing Americans than an American killing Afghans.

DaMav on August 25, 2013 at 3:34 PM

One point I’ve never seen addressed with our soldiers is this:

We put our current soldiers under enormous stress w/ these wars. Think about it – WWII had horrendous events happened but how many happened day after day after day after day by an enemy that thinks it’s ok to blow up themselves, kids, women, etc.? Yes, there were instances of kids cornering US Servicemen in Germany after the war ended but no where near the amount of what for us is senseless murder of innocent people. What kind of belief system makes sense to support that? And too many of our soldiers see too much of this aberrant behavior in far too short of time with far too short breaks before being redeployed.

Our government has been shrinking our military since the Clinton years. IF there were more FT soldiers, at least some would not have deployment after deployment after deployment as our soldiers in the last 10 years have had to endure.

Our soldiers are put in environments where civilized people are a rarity b/c of a system over 1000 years old. We put them in these messes, then bring them home within DAYS.

SOldiers after WWI and WWII had to sail back home, on ships with thousands of other soldiers, who understood what each other had seen, the senselessness of some people’s behavior. They had time to decompress. We short circuit that enormously and bring them back to a civilized society and expect all to be ok. Nope, won’t work for all.

It pains me no end that this soldier did what he did but it also pains me that NO ONE seems to understand that they have seen hell many times over but are supposed to be “ok” after two or three sessions with a psychologist in a group session. GIVE ME A BREAK!

In all seriousness, maybe we should literally ship them home, for six weeks, and give them some time to get some of the horrific human behavior they’ve seen out of their system. It’s no cure-all but what our soldiers have seen in the Middle East is beyond the pale of what most decent societies would accept.

MN J on August 25, 2013 at 5:14 PM

The fact that this man suffered a brain injury if not several is reason enough to not deploy him again as to combat.

Lourdes on August 25, 2013 at 10:06 AM

To me this is the beginning, middle and end of the story. He should NOT have been sent out again. He SHOULD HAVE been mentally and physically taken care of. It was inevitable that something would happen.

But that’s the way things are now. No spine, no thought processes, no attention to detail. Just pass the buck and avoid responsibility.

His “superiors” and whoever his medical treating team should also be on trial attempting to explain why they sent a very sick man out into combat.

kim roy on August 25, 2013 at 8:54 PM

We put our current soldiers under enormous stress w/ these wars. Think about it – WWII had horrendous events happened but how many happened day after day after day after day by an enemy that thinks it’s ok to blow up themselves, kids, women, etc.?

MN J –

My dad fought the Germans for two years and got two weeks leave at home. Then he shipped out against the Japanese for the rest of the war. He wasn’t in it for a “tour” – he was in it for the duration. He fought through four invasions. He weathered the Kamakazi attacks of Okinawa and Suicide Bay. What you describe above is precisely what he experienced.

After a couple months with the occupation, where he had to be careful not to let even children get the drop on him, they shipped him home. Once in the US, he had to ride a train where the servicemen were kept in locked cars across the country, sleeping in his seat and being escorted to the dining car only after the civilians were finished. The railway did not allow them to mix. Once back home up east, he mustered out on the eve of Thanksgiving and was home in his own bed on Thanksgiving day. He saw no parades. No pretty girls kissed him. And he was nobody special because returned veterans were everywhere.

He was entirely confused and felt awlfully out of place, but like the overwhelming majority of returning veterans, he got a grip on himself and moved forward. That said, there were many in his generation who experienced the same savagery and came back terribly damaged.

I entirely agree that we need to pay close attention of our returning warriors and I think we try harder than we have in the past. The fact that they served is sufficient justification.

War is all hell, as Sherman said, but I don’t think it is helpful to illustrate a need by suggesting that one generation’s nightmare is worse than another’s.

Cricket624 on August 26, 2013 at 9:55 AM

War is death beyond a normally imagined scale. This guy needs care not prison. If you haven’t been in it, you it don’t understand that when human life looses some its value, soon all of it is gone. Hate fills the hole. Combat sometime amplifies good; but always evil. This guy just broke.

StevC on August 26, 2013 at 2:10 PM

From the beginning, the only word I’ve had for this case was “sad.”

factsonlypls on August 26, 2013 at 3:35 PM

Having a legitimate civilian career would have helped him avoid all this…

Armin Tamzarian on August 24, 2013 at 5:57 PM

You continue to be despicable, and you hardly have to try.

Nobody can know what the full sum of inputs is that drives a person to an action which seems, to the outside observer, to be an aberration. What this man did was wrong and tragic; it was criminal. What impelled him to it? You do not know, neither can you know. But making a blithe statement that amounts to “If he wasn’t there, he wouldn’t have done it” has less than zero value to the discussion.

What did you intend to accomplish with your statement? What could you possibly have wished to convey? Your words are inane, they have no merit, and they attain no purpose.

Freelancer on August 26, 2013 at 4:31 PM

Freelancer on August 26, 2013 at 4:31 PM

Bales was a Stryker. If there was a modern day US Soldier that fit the image of Viet Nam thousand yard stare soldier completely lost in the carnage of a brutal fight, it was many of them. They were off the FOBs in vehicles that were being nearly obliterated by IEDs and there was nothing they could do about it. Charges that would take out an MRAP would just tear their Strykers to bits.

When these soldiers came into the FOB at Kandahar, many senior NCOs tried to enforce some semblance of appearance standards with them and they just gave up. I watched a young unshaved soldier with his blouse unbuttoned, no cover and his boots untied standing in a chow line in South Park and no one said a damn word to him. He was a Stryker.

hawkdriver on August 27, 2013 at 7:50 AM

How many tours of duty does the govt demand out of a man, until he either dies or snaps.
he served 3 tours, had head injury begged for help
and the so called “peaceful locals” arn’t
booby traps and vest bombs ect.

the guy needed therapy bad
if you abuse a piece of equipment non stop and it breaks dont blame the equipment

that and the new rules of engagement from some R.E.M.F or politician, enforced on the front line guys who are dying each day.

this poor guy needs therapy and rest, he did his duty up until he just could not take it anymore.

sniffles1999 on August 28, 2013 at 1:01 PM

I guess the military needs to go back and arrest every Vietnam veteran then. War is nasty, war has no feelings. When you send men and women into another country for war, they should not be able to be tried as criminals unless they go nuts and kill American soldiers. They are taught to kill the enemy, period. Anyone living in that country is considered the enemy. This is not ballet dancing, it is WAR. Free the man, he did his job. Court marshal him for leaving his post, but no trial for murder.

F_This on August 28, 2013 at 1:17 PM

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