Afghanistan’s Taliban said on Friday it had no faith in any court proceedings against a U.S. soldier who was charged in connection with a shooting rampage in two southern Afghanistan villages that shocked Americans back home and further roiled U.S.-Afghan relations.
A U.S. official said on Thursday U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales will be charged with 17 counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder, along with other charges.
“This was a planed activity and we will certainly take revenge on all American forces in Afghanistan and don’t trust such trials,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Bales will be read the charges on Friday at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he has been held since being flown from Afghanistan last week, a U.S. official said, according to AP.
The lawyer representing Bales said U.S. authorities lack proof of what happened during the March 11 shooting spree in southern Panjwai district.
The Taliban’s Mujahid reiterated claims held by many Afghans that there must have been more than one soldier involved in the massacre, claims U.S. authorities have consistently denied.
“Now America tries to deceive the people and tries to blame the act on one soldier. This is a crime by the American government. Using such cleverness and deception is a huge crime,” Mujahid said.
The slaughter of Afghan villagers was yet another blow to U.S-Afghan relations, following a series of missteps, including the mistaken burning of Qurans, which prompted violent protests and revenge killings of American troops in the war zone.
The killings also prompted renewed debate in the United States about health care for the troops, who have experienced record suicide rates and high rates of post-traumatic stress and brain injuries during repeated deployments over a decade of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bales was on his fourth tour of duty, having served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a head injury and a foot injury. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.
Bales’ civilian attorney, John Henry Browne, has portrayed his client as a patriot, loving father and devoted husband who had been traumatized by a comrade’s injury and sent into combat one too many times.
But there have been conflicting reports about what exactly Bales saw relating to a comrade’s injury. A U.S. defense official said that while it is likely that a soldier from Bales’ unit, based in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan, suffered a leg wound a day or two before the March 11 shootings, there is no evidence that Bales witnessed it or the aftermath, or that it played any role in his alleged actions.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an internal review.
Afghan officials have asked the United States for some role in the criminal proceedings, perhaps as observers, and to be kept up to date on the process of the case. The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has not demanded that Bales be turned over to the Afghan justice system, although some in the country’s parliament did. The Afghans have also urged a fast resolution of the case.
Browne has also said that Bales has some memories from before the killings and some from after but very little of the time when the military says he went on the shooting rampage.
“I’m not putting the war on trial,” Browne has said, “but the war is on trial.” He added: “If I can help create a discussion about the war, that would be a great way for me to go out.”
Army officials have said Bales was cleared for return to duty after the head injury he suffered in Iraq.
Bales joined the Army in 2001 after a Florida investment business failed and after he had worked with a string of securities operations. Bales and a broker at one company were hit in 2003 with a $1.5 million arbitration ruling after an elderly couple charged that their holdings were decimated.
He also was arrested in 2002 for the drunken assault of a casino security guard and had to complete an anger management class. There also are reports of a second incident involving alcohol, although Bales was never formally charged.
A sheriff’s department report released Thursday says Robert Bales was accused in 2008 in Washington state of shaking hands with a woman, pulling her hand into his crotch and then punching and kicking her boyfriend. It describes Bales as “extremely intoxicated.”