Vigilante Solider?

Picture by The Associated Press

It was a typical March night in Southern Afghanistan for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales and his fellow soldiers. They watched “Man on Fire”, a fictional account of a former CIA operative on a revenge spree. Cpl. David Godwin testified that Bale seemed normal as they shared whiskey and discussed Bales’ anxiety over whether he would get a promotion and about another soldier who lost his leg a week earlier in a roadside bomb attack. Shortly before leaving the base, Bales told a Special Forces soldier that he believed that the troops should have been quicker to retaliate for the March 5th bomb attack.

The next day, March 11th, Bales allegedly slipped away from the remote outpost with an M-4 rifle equipped with a grenade launcher to attack the villages of Balandi and Alkozai, in a dangerous district. Morse, the prosecutor, said Bales broke the killings into two episodes. Bales walked first to one village, returned to the base, and then slipped away again to carry out the attack on the second village. Between the episodes, Bales told a fellow soldier about shooting people at one of the villages, Morse said. The soldier apparently took it as a joke and said: “Quit messing around.”

After the attack on the second village, “a caped figure captured on surveillance video came running out of the darkness to the edge of a remote Army outpost in southern Afghanistan. Blood was smeared on his face, prosecutors said, and soaked into his clothes. Less than a mile away, 16 Afghans, including nine children, were dead, some of their bodies on fire in two villages.” When Bales was taken into custody, he said: “I thought I was doing the right thing.” He also asked one of the soldiers, “Did you rat me out? Did you rat me out?”

Bales, 39, was serving his fourth combat tour after three stints in Iraq. He now faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder. The hearing is said to last up to two weeks. The defense did not give an opening statement. Bales lawyers, Emma Scanlan and John Henry Browne said that Bales remembers little to nothing about the two attacks. They also declined to say to what testimony they hope to elicit that can be used to support a defense of mental defect. Bales himself will not make any statements.

Bale’s arrest prompted a national discussion about the stresses that soldiers face from multiple deployments. This event was also described as “one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars”.

Was Bale simply a vigilante soldier? Did he take the war into his own hands, because he did not like the way the U.S. was fighting it.  Or was he so overworked from multiple deployments that he cannot be held responsible for his actions? Do you think he should even be charged? Do you think a defense of insanity has any merit?

Source: The Associated Press




  1. This is a delicate issue in my opinion. To begin with, I believe that it is difficult to assert that this soldier should not be held accountable for his actions through the criminal system. This was a despicable act and it would not be consistent with societal notions of justice to not charge this soldier criminally. That being said, I think this case does call for a reevaluation of how often our soldiers are deployed. These individuals already face tremendous psychological and emotional difficulties in one deployment, but redeployment should be thoroughly scrutinized. As the post states, the soldier in this case was redeployed three times. Perhaps a system should be put in place to evaluate soldiers emotionally and psychologically before being redeployed on a case by case basis. The implications in the international community of atrocities such as this are far too great, and if a soldier can be identified as an individual that may be susceptible such extreme acts we can possibly prevent those acts from occurring.

    Then again, this could just be a rogue case and one time occurrence. Even still I think this is a discussion that should be had and seriously considered.

  2. A defense of insanity is going to be very difficult to prove. The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 raised the previous standard for the insanity defense after President Reagan got shot, making it harder to establish. It now requires that the accused be completely impaired, unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his crime, that he have a severe mental disease or defect and that the burden of proof be shifted from the prosecution to the defense. (National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1984, Pub. L. No. 980473 (1984)). The military adopted this standard into the UCMJ through the Military Justice Act of 1986 (Manual for Courts-Martial, United States, Article 50a, 2000, p A2-14).

    Given this elevated standard for the insanity defense and the facts surrounding the shooting listed in the above article, I find it very unlikely that the court will find that he was legally insane at the times of the shooting. The fact that he slipped away twice to avoid detection will not help the completely impaired prong. The best that the defense can hope for are that whatever proof they show that he was insane will work as mitigating factors at sentencing.

    Leaving aside the technical standards of words that lawyers use, I believe he was crazy and I sympathize to a degree. War can make you crazy and not enough is done to ensure the mental health of our war veterans while being deployed and after.

    That being said, premeditated murder under the UCMJ requires a minimum of a life sentence and a maximum of the death penalty. Given all the factors, I think 4 combat tours will save him from the rope, but he will die in prison.

  3. This case is certainly a sad and disturbing one. It is clear that this soldier went beyond merely violating orders in going on this killing spree, and should certainly be held accountable. However, due to his military service, I think there should be some type of rehabilitation program in place in addition to any punishment he will face. It is clear that the stress of serving overseas and the demand of the service warped his mental status, and although he should be held accountable for premeditated murder, some type of psychological help should also be provided. At this point he could very well be a danger to himself as well as a danger to other inmates. Some may share the position that due to his service he should get a decreased punishment. In response, I would bring up the position that it would set a terrible example to those abroad that we are protecting and attempting to rebuild if we go soft on these atrocities. There have been many instances of soldiers overseas committing heinous acts and serving as a poor example of the overall brave military we have. Also for consideration, if this is not implemented already, is a stronger psychological support for soldiers as they are serving. While I understand that many places these men and women fight are dangerous zones, if possible it might be proactive to be able to provide them with mental support while they are putting their lives on the line for our country.

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