Where’s the Evidence Against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales?

In this Sunday, March 11, 2012 photo, men stand next to blood stains and charred remains inside a home where witnesses say Afghans were killed by a U.S. soldier in Panjwai, Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)

Public Intelligence

The lawyer for the soldier accused of massacring seventeen people in a small Afghan village earlier this month has stated publicly that there is little or no evidence against his client.  John Henry Browne, who is defending Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, told NBC that the U.S. government’s prosecution of Bales will be difficult as “They have no bodies, they have no autopsies, they have no forensics, they have no photographs, they have no witnesses. There is no Afghan who is going to come here to testify against this guy, so how do they prove premeditation? It’s going to be a problem for them.”  In an interview with CBS, Browne reiterated this claim stating “There is no crime scene. There is no CSI stuff. There’s no DNA. There’s no fingerprints.”  Browne has also stated that there is “no evidence about how many alleged victims” or “of where those remains are.”

Given the state of war and turmoil in Afghanistan, this complete absence of evidence might seem plausible to those unfamiliar with the Afghan justice system or the military’s on-the-ground capabilities in the region.  However, for a number of years the U.S. military has operated complex forensic facilities in every region of Afghanistan capable of fingerprint and DNA analysis, ballistics testing, forensic chemistry and more.  In fact, collecting complex evidence to be used in the trials of Afghan insurgents is a common practice for U.S. soldiers.  Both the U.S. Army and ISAF have issued guides to soldiers regarding the collection of evidence in support of prosecution of insurgency crimes.

ISAF’s evidence collection guide details how to interview witnesses, perform chemical tests, collect DNA evidence, photograph the crime scene, analyze tire marks and footprints and how to eventually turn all this evidence over to Afghan courts while maintaining a chain of custody.  The U.S. Army’s guide similarly details sophisticated methods of evidence collection by “providing practical means and methods to properly identify, collect, preserve, and provide evidence that will be recognized and accepted by the Afghan criminal justice system.”  A presentation from the U.S. Army’s Office of the Provost Marshal General indicates that as of August 2011 there were three Joint Expeditionary Forensics Facilities (JEFFs) throughout Afghanistan including one in Kandahar, the same province where Staff Sgt. Bales reportedly committed the massacre.  These forensics facilities are capable of DNA analysis, latent print identification, photographic forensics, as well as chemical and ballistic analysis.  The presentation also indicates that there are centralized crime labs operated in coordination with the Afghan government capable of many of the same methods of forensic analysis.

While Browne’s claims could simply reflect that the U.S. military’s investigation of the incident is still in an early stage, the supposed lack of evidence is troubling given that many witnesses still maintain that more than one person was involved in the massacre, a belief supported by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  After meeting with the victims’ family members, Karzai said that they did not believe it was possible for one man to kill seventeen people in different rooms of houses in multiple villages, drag the bodies into piles and burn them within such a limited period of time.   According to the Washington Post, survivors of the massacre have told family members that “There were 10 soldiers in our neighborhood alone.”  An Afghan parliamentary investigation found that it was widely reported by witnesses that up to twenty soldiers may have been involved and the BBC reported that residents heard helicopters that they believe were supporting the operation.

Though Staff Sgt. Bales has now been charged with seventeen counts of premeditated murder, it remains to be seen whether the U.S. military will present the same level of forensic evidence that it routinely collects and analyzes when attempting to prosecute suspected insurgents.

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5 comments for “Where’s the Evidence Against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales?

  1. A US Libertarian
    March 28, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    This smells fishy. This reeks of a case handled poorly. Did this soldier commit any actions that looked like whistleblowing, or did he do anything politically inconvenient during his tour of duty?

    This looks like a frame to get rid of a GI who is becoming too much of a political problem.

    And no: The severity of alleged crime does not excuse prosecution with no evidence, there is no waiver that excuses the need for due process.

    US goons: You want to lock this guy up?

    How about some hard proof that he did something as the Constitution demands.

  2. chizeled
    March 30, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    This article that just posted explains that Afghans believe up to 20 soldiers may have involved: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2122587/U-S-soldier-accused-killing-17-Afghan-villagers-did-act-accomplices.html

  3. Don Barksdale
    April 2, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    The ability to round up, detain and secure all these people seems impossible for a single person. Having everyone hang around as they are being shot presents another problem. Dragging the bodies into a pile is another significant problem for a single person; dead people are heavy.
    However, orchestrating a massacre that is designed to swing the opinions of the last few supporters of the war against further involvement make a lot of sense. Have a small team do the dirty work and blame it on one drugged or mentally controlled G.I. is a nice clean explanation.

  4. DudeGuy
    April 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    This is a decent site, but sometimes the conspiracy tint is just too silly. Perhaps they are still investigating and developing the details, and it’s all Secret anyway so they won’t tell us? So there is no evidence, even though you have a book which says there should be alot, and of the fancy kind. Tell me, does the book say how long it takes to gather all that cool evidence up on a site like this? Couple days maybe? How long does it typically take to get all the cool guy evidence together for each prosecution case? Bet the book doesn’t say. What does the book say about the evidence collection team being shot at by insurgents after hanging around all day or two or three? Did you know that Norinco in China makes an 82 mm recoilless rifle known as the Type 65, intended for antiarmor purposes, and that they will sell it to anyone with hard currency? That is what “offered for export sales” means. Did you also know that Afghanistan shares a border with China? And that the CHICOMs don’t like Americans capitalists? Do you know what a DShK is, or how many got left floating around after the Soviets left? RPG anybody? Afghans don’t do accountability, and we have no idea if this is a good, bad, or neutral neighborhood. Well, after this, it’s probably a bad neighborhood now to be in, so conservatively figure they’ll be harassed by AK fire at a minimum all day. But go collect the evidence! It’s very important to convicting this fellow sergeant, and don’t destroy the neighborhood while they keep shooting at you. And do this in addition to your other military objectives you had before, while smiling! Yay!

    Wow, so like 10-20 soldiers showed up looking for the missing American, and they had helicopter support, maybe Apache gunships. What did you think they’d send, a squad car with a couple dudes and flashing blue lights? This is AFGHANISTAN! Of course they sent a platoon or more! What did you think would happen to anything less? I’m more interested in what happened to the American base perimeter guard.

    Like the Afghans couldn’t have pulled the bodies together and torched them themselves to try and get a bigger payout. Money is food, they’d do it if hungry enough. Bottom line YOU DON’T KNOW and HAPPY ENDINGS DO NOT OCCUR IN COMBAT ZONES.

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