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Justice Served in Afghanistan?


The New York Times recently reported that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will plead guilty to the murder of 16 Afghan civilians. It is believed to be part of a plea bargain arrangement worked out between his lawyer and the US government. The Army had been seeking the death penalty, and it is understood that a plea of guilty will spare Sgt Bales his life.

The murder of 16 local Afghans is believed to be the worst case of civilian slaughter blamed on a single U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War. At a pre-trial hearing, the prosecution stated that on the evening of March 10-11, 2012, Sgt. Bales went from house to house firing his weapon with intent to kill. Children were shot through the thighs or in the head. At one point during the massacre 11 bodies, mostly women and children, were “put in a pile and put on fire.” The prosecutor said that the carnage was so violent that when Sgt. Bales finally returned to base the blood of his victims had seeped all the way through his uniform and down to his underwear.

John Henry Browne, Sgt. Bales’ lawyer, said his client was “crazed” and “broken” when he walked off base in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan and attacked the residents of two quiet nearby villages.

How a lone sergeant was able to walk off an army base in the middle of the night and in the middle of a hostile zone, unmolested and unnoticed, fully armed and fully loaded, attack a nearby village and murder several civilians, return to the army base, wake up a fellow soldier, confess to what he had done, leave the base for a second time, once more unmolested and unnoticed, go to a different nearby village, murder even more Afghan civilians, and then return to the base without anyone knowing or suspecting that anything was wrong has never been fully explained.

Sgt Bales was on his fourth combat tour. His defense attorney says that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Witnesses from the camp also reported that Sgt. Bales, a decorated veteran of combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, had been upset over an incident that occurred 2 days earlier when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded, resulting in one US soldier losing the lower part of a leg. Unfortunately for Sgt. Bales, his attorney said that his mental state at the time did not rise to the level of “legally insane” and thus wouldn’t help him avoid a possible death sentence.

There are also reports that Sgt. Bales was drinking alcohol, snorting Valium and had been taking steroids before the attack. Once more, how this behaviour (if true) was allowed to happen on an army base in the middle of a hostile zone has never been fully explained.

So in the end one sergeant will plead guilty to the murder of 16 Afghan civilians. Clearly a case of justice being served, is it not?

The US is in its 12th year of war in Afghanistan (longer than the Soviet Union’s campaign). A key component of US strategy in the Afghanistan / Pakistan theatre, or “AfPak” as the area is commonly known, is drones. The Pentagon has about 7,000 at its disposal, with not all of them being for attack purposes. For several years now, a sustained targeted drone campaign has been carried out in an effort to weaken the “insurgents” (i.e. local Afghan resistance). Since 2010 alone, at least 1100 weapons have been fired from drones in Afghanistan (as of February of this year the US military no longer gives out data on individual drone strikes in Afghanistan). The CIA even has its own private fleet of attack drones. Estimates put the number of strikes carried out by the CIA in Pakistan at 369 (317 carried out during the Obama presidency). These have reportedly killed anywhere from 411 to 884 civilians and between 168 and 197 children.

A question can be asked. Who is being held accountable for the deaths of literally hundreds if not thousands of civilians killed in drone attacks carried out by the US government?


If we lived in a correct and just society, and respected the principles put forth in the founding charter of the UN, Sgt. Bales would not be the only one going to prison.

He would be joined by President Obama and his administration as well as President Bush and his administration.

All of whom could easily be considered as war criminals.

It appears that once more America’s varying standards of justice are blindingly on display.

In what can only be called the “Inverse Nuremberg Principle,” if a front line US soldier massacres innocent civilians he can expect to be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison.

If the President of the United States massacres innocent civilians he can expect to have a library named after him or win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Tom McNamara is an Assistant Professor at the ESC Rennes School of Business, France, and a Visiting Lecturer at the French National Military Academy at Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan, France


“AF removes RPA airstrike number from summary” by Brian Everstine, March 8, 2013, Air Force Times. Accessed at:

“Army Seeks Death Penalty in Afghan Massacre” by Kirk Johnson, November 13, 2012, The New York Times. Accessed at:

“Bales to plead guilty to Afghan massacre” By Gene Johnson, May 30, 2013. The Associated Press, reported in Navy Times. Accessed at:

“Death from afar” The Economist, November 3rd-9th, 2012. Accessed at:

“Erased US data shows 1 in 4 missiles in Afghan airstrikes now fired by drone” by Alice K. Ross, March 12th, 2013, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Accessed at:

“Get the Data: Obama’s terror drones” by Chris Woods, February 4, 2012, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Accessed at:

“Predator Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)” September  26, 2012, The New York Times. Accessed at:

“Pretrial Hearing Starts for Soldier Accused of Murdering 16 Afghan Civilians” by Kirk Johnson, November 5, 2012, The New York Times. Accessed at:

“Prosecutors seek death for U.S. soldier charged in Afghan rampage” by Bill Rigby, November  5, 2012, Reuters. Accessed at:

“Prosecution Cites Revenge as Motive for Afghan Massacre” by Neal Karlinsky and Luis Martinez, November 5, 2012, ABC News. Accessed at:

“Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nüremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal, 1950” Report of the International Law Commission covering its Second Session, 5 june – 29 July 1950, Document A/1316. Accessed at:

“Soldier Is Expected to Plead Guilty in Afghan Massacre” by James Dao, May 29, 2013, The New York Times. Accessed at:

“The Moral Case for Drones” by Scott Shane, July 14, 2012, The New York Times. Accessed at:

“The Charter of the United Nations” June 26, 1945. Accessed at:

“U.S. hearing on Kandahar massacre to include video testimony from Afghans” by Laura L. Myers, October 12, 2012, Reuters. Accessed at:

Tom McNamara is an Assistant Professor at the ESC Rennes School of Business, France, and a former Visiting Lecturer at the French National Military Academy at Saint-Cyr, Coëtquidan, France.

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