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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Why we need to care about the Kandahar massacre

Under the cover of an Afghani night, a tragedy has occurred. On March 11, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly killed 17 innocent civilians and injured five more in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan.

The incident has been described as Afghanistan’s My Lai, in reference to the American massacre of a memorable Vietnamese village in 1968.

While I feel a combination of factors drove Bales’ actions that night, nobody knows for sure what caused the massacre. It has been a clear point of intrigue surrounding this story.

Still, regardless of the rationale, I’m convinced of the need to remain vigilant about this case to ensure justice is served for the massacre victims.

“He was observed staggering. His eyes were glassy … (his) speech was mumbled and slurred. The effects of alcohol were extreme,” wrote an officer back in 2008 of Bales, who had then been arrested for involvement in a bowling-alley brawl.

It is just one instance in a history of alcohol-related law infractions involving Bales. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bales’ criminal record includes a drunk driving arrest in 2005 and a charge involving drunken assault at a casino in 2002 as well.

Bales clearly may have been influenced by alcohol in the time leading up to and during the massacre, but don’t discount a number of other factors Bales faced as well. He owed nearly $2 million in debt to two property foreclosures and an outstanding $1.3 million from a court settlement during his days as a stockbroker — he had cheated someone out of their money and was sued.

According to Bales’ lawyer, the soldier suffered a brain injury in 2010 when the Humvee he was riding in flipped over. Additionally, in a March 2010 blog post, his wife expressed a sense of disappointment that Bales had not received an expected promotion within the army ranks.

The entirety of Bales’ collective dilemma would overwhelm any one of us. Sitting in camp that fateful night, drinking away his worries, did Bales finally snap, heading to those Afghani homes, weapons in hand?

Maybe, maybe not. We may never know what exactly was going on in the 38-year-old’s mind the night of the massacre.

Still, no rationale would justify taking the lives of 17 innocent people in cold blood. This is a sentiment echoed by CCE student Darren Foster.

“I think he should be tried in Afghanistan’s courts,” said Foster, who along with spouse and fellow CCE student Ashley Foster is a member of our nation’s military.
Both express a level of cynicism towards the military tribunal system, if used in this case, in holding Bales to full justice.

History vividly illustrates the lesson of lost justice. In the aftermath of the My Lai massacre, only one person, 2nd Lt. William Calley, was ever convicted of a crime. Despite 22 counts of murder and an initial life sentence, Calley only served three and a half years of house arrest.
It would be regrettable, although I wouldn’t be completely surprised, if Bales somehow sneaks away with this case as well.

War is inherently madness, and incidents like the Kandahar massacre do happen. However, I am increasingly convinced that the only way to prevent them from occurring is for our forces to not be in harm’s way in the first place.

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    Thomas HarwellApr 14, 2012 at 3:26 am

    Afghani is the unit of currency here, Afghan is the correct adjective. Also, Kandahar is a province … not a region.