Sgt. Bales: Is Further Proof Needed That Multiple Tours Are a Recipe for Disaster?

On Friday March 23, 2012, Staff Sgt Robert Bales was charged with 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault. This is a result of what Fox News has called “the worst allegation of killing of civilians by an American in Afghanistan.” On March 11, Bales allegedly had been drinking prior to attacking two villages near his base in the Afghan villages of Balandi and Alkozai, where he murdered nine children and seven adults. He was moved first from Afghanistan to Kuwait and is currently waiting trial at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The BBC says that Bales is seeking defense for “diminished capacity” because he doesn’t remember the crime, he had already completed three tours in Iraq, and had received brain and body injuries in previous tours. Prior to the rampage Bales had seen his friend’s leg blown off and was drinking. Other excuses cited by the Kansas City Star were that Bales had just been passed over for promotion, was experiencing stress with finances and in his marriage, and had been working at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, known for being “the most troubled base in the military.” These rationalizations could have major implications for the military administration.

For example, Bales shouldn’t have been enlisted for a fourth tour if he was not physically and psychologically capable, which he is clearly arguing he was not. On top of that he had been drinking which could have increased Bales’ memory loss and is against U.S. military orders. However, if the rampage were a symptom of PTSD, then the United States is not doing enough to offer the psychological support the troops need. Providing that support is crucial to the success of overseas operations. The Huffington Post argues that the United States had no choice but to stretch what knowledgeable military it had thinly. This is understandable, but it hardly seems worth it when considering the ramifications.

This incident fuels the social upheaval that has resulted from NATO and U.S. Army personnel accidentally burning several Qurans. The Taliban says Bales won’t get a fair or speedy trial. In fact the trial could be drawn out for years. They say Bales was not the only one involved in the incident. The Taliban thinks that the murders were premeditated and carried out by a group of individuals. Therefore, in their eyes the justice process is already flawed. The results of the rampage and following process are undermining U.S.-Afghan relations, Taliban peace talks are off, and Karzai has yet another reason to demand early withdrawal.

Arguably, Bales is not the only one who should be on trial right now. Military protocol and the psychological health of personnel should also be called into question.