The soldier accused of massacring 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children, made an ominous and disturbing Facebook comment during an exchange with a friend back home in 2010. The Wall Street Journal reports that the comment was made in response to a childhood friend's message: "Sup brother?" wrote the friend, Steven Berling. "Hope all is well overseas!!! Been a long time, look me up when you get back in town,,, we'll go drink some brews!!!" The accused soldier, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, replied, "You got it. Overseas is boring this trip, pretty dumb. Giving money to Hagi instead of bullets don't seem right."
The word "Hagi" appears to be the slang U.S. military term "hajji," a pejorative commonly used by American soldiers to refer to Iraqis. "U.S. commanders spent years trying in vain to end the use of the term," the Journal notes, adding that Bales's threatening comment is at odds with a public statement he made to the AP in 2007. "I've never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day," Bales said, "for the simple fact that we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us."
The Times published a long, in-depth report on Bales today, in which old neighbors from his Ohio neighborhood express shock and dismay Bales's alleged crimes. Michelle Caddell, who knew Sergeant Bales when he was growing up, says she's in disbelief. "I wanted to see, maybe, a different face,” she told the Times, fighting back tears. “Because that’s not our Bobby. Something horrible, horrible had to happen to him." Indeed, Bales, a 38-year-old father of two, lost part of a foot and injured his head during his four deployments, witnessed his fellow soldiers getting blown to bits, and may have developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bales was also under financial strain, and had been denied a promotion, which would have come with a pay raise. He was also reportedly unhappy about being deployed to combat duty for a fourth time, having believed he would no longer be sent into the line of fire. After he was sent to Afghanistan, his wife Karilyn wrote on their family blog, "It is very disappointed [sic] after all of the work Bob has done and all the sacrifices he has made for his love of his country, family and friends. I am sad and disappointed too, but I am also relieved, we can finally move on to the next phase of our lives."
But Bales's lawyers deny that their client had a drinking problem and was experiencing marital troubles, which an unnamed Army official told the Times last week. "It is too early to determine what factors may have played into this incident and the defense team looks forward to reviewing the evidence, examining all of Sergeant Bales's medical and personnel records, and interviewing witnesses," his attorneys said in a statement. Military prosecutors are currently building a case against Bales, and may seek the death penalty.
Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired brigadier general who was an adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says Bales's alleged crime is emblematic of a larger problem. "This is equivalent to what My Lai did to reveal all the problems with the conduct of the Vietnam War,” Dr. Xenakis says. "The Army will want to say that soldiers who commit crimes are rogues, that they are individual, isolated cases. But they are not."