Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

Tag: robert bales

June
6th

Life spared, Bales owes the world an explanation

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

‘I intended to kill them.” That’s all he has to say?

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty Wednesday to massacring 16 Afghan villagers last year, owes humanity some explanation for that atrocity. Single-handedly, in one night, he did incalculable damage to America’s standing in Afghanistan and handed a propaganda bonanza to the Taliban.

“There is not a good reason in the world for why I did the horrible things that I did,” he told the judge at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Of course there’s no good reason. But how about a bad reason? How about any reason at all?

Bales’ defense team, and a legion of folks opposed to the Afghan war, have tried to turn him into the poster boy of everything the Army has done wrong on that side of the world.

The problem is, Bales’ enormity is an outlier by any reckoning. It has few parallels in all the years since Vietnam.

Innocents suffer and die in war; Sherman was talking precisely about noncombatants when he remarked, “War is hell.” In Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, air strikes have taken the lives of countless bystanders. In battle, soldiers and Marines have killed noncombatants, deliberately in some cases — but almost always in the heat of battle.

But we’ve seen nothing like what Bales did on March 11, 2012. On a quiet night, in the relative safety of an Army compound, he armed himself with a pistol, rifle and grenade launcher; he sneaked off in the darkness to a nearby village, barged into a mud-walled home and gunned down unarmed people without provocation.

Then he returned to base, chatted with a friend, slipped out to another village and did it all over again.

The calculation behind it is reminiscent of the “kill team” — several JBLM soldiers who murdered three Afghan men, apparently for sport, in 2010. But Bales produced a far higher body count in far less time, and many of the bodies in that count belonged to children.
Read more »

Dec.
29th

The best of people, the worst of people, in 2012

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Like every year before it, 2012 brought out the good and evil in human nature. The theme never changes, just the particulars.

The generosity of strangers sometimes seems boundless. After Jacoby Miles, a 15-year-old gymnast, was paralyzed in a practice accident, supporters raised more than $150,000 on her behalf and began an overhaul of her South Hill home to accommodate her disability.

An elderly bus monitor, Karen Klein, experienced a similar shower of generosity last summer after several boys on her bus were caught on video viciously tormenting her for more than 10 minutes.

When the video went viral, more than $700,000 in donations poured in. The bullying couldn’t be undone, but roughly 32,000 Americans wanted at least monetary justice. In a corresponding display of generosity, Klein has since been donating the money to an anti-bullying initiative.

If only bullying were the worst 2012 had to offer.

The year has been marked by shocking attacks on helpless children. In Pierce County, the worst came 11 months ago, when Josh Powell set himself and his 5-year-old and 7-year-old sons ablaze in a Graham-area house. That completed the destruction of an entire family; the boys’ mother had disappeared earlier. There was no one left to console with gifts or other assistance.

Two weeks ago, in an even less comprehensible crime, a mentally disturbed 20-year-old gunned down 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Why the children?

Last March, a U.S. soldier reportedly perpetuated a similar massacre in Afghanistan, killing 16 Afghan villagers, at least nine of them children. That distant atrocity struck painfully close to home: A Bonney Lake man, Sgt. Robert Bales, was charged with the murders. The criminal proceedings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord are being followed throughout the world.
Read more »

Nov.
15th

Horrifying testimony on the road to justice

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

The Army’s Article 32 hearing for Sgt. Robert Bales was so replete with witnesses and evidence that it looked as if he were on trial.

In fact, it was a preliminary procedure. Commanders at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will now decide whether the evidence tying Bales to the murder of 16 Afghan villagers on March 11 justifies a court-martial.

That’s a foregone conclusion.

Soldiers saw Bales returning to Camp Belambay alone – covered in blood – the night of the massacres. DNA experts linked the blood to at least one of the victims. Comrades testified that he made what sound like self-incriminating statements.

Prosecutors have won outright murder convictions with far less evidence than emerged in this hearing.

Bales is entitled to due process, and the Army is giving him plenty of it.

His skilled defense attorneys are raising key questions about his state of mind, including reported drinking and Valium abuse, and the possibility that he suffered from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. They’ve turned up ambiguous evidence that there were more than one American involved in the slaughters.

The law must presume Bales’ innocence.

Let’s take a step back. Whoever committed the atrocities detailed in the hearing hardly deserves to be called human.

It’s the murder of the children that pushes this case beyond all bounds of empathy for Americans in combat zones.

The testimony included: A dead child whose head was stomped so hard that a footprint remained visible on it. Boys and girls being shot as they attempted to hide or run – while shouting, “We are children.” Children piled up, splashed with kerosene and burned along with parents and loved ones.
Read more »

June
20th

Military death penalty discredits American justice

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Genuine justice doesn’t play favorites with either criminals or their victims. A state, for example, that’s quick to execute murderers who kill whites, but not those who kill blacks, shouldn’t be in the business of executing anyone at all.

For many years, the U.S. military court system has been flunking the test of impartiality in handing down death sentences. As The News Tribune’s Adam Ashton documented Sunday, the military has been willing to condemn its own to death only if they kill Americans. For killing foreign noncombatants, U.S. personnel have gotten – at most – life in prison.

The four soldiers, one airman and one Marine now on death row at Fort Leavenworth all got there by murdering fellow Americans. In more recent cases, prosecutors have sought the death sentence against two defendants: Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, accused of slaughtering 13 people in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas, and Army Sgt. John Russell, accused for murdering five other service members in 2009 in Iraq.

Conspicuously missing from both lists are any troops accused or convicted of killing foreign civilians. Members of the rogue “kill team” – four Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers who killed three Afghan noncombatants for sport in 2010 – never faced capital punishment, for example.
Read more »

March
31st

Massacre excuses: Guilt by association for U.S. troops

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Too many cheap explanations are being tossed around for the March 11 massacre of what appears to be 17 innocent villagers in Afghanistan. As a result, untold thousands of combat veterans risk getting indirectly smeared.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a Lake Tapps man who’d been deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, has been charged with the killings. The public knows very little about the crimes and very little about him; the Army has not been particularly forthcoming.

Into the vacuum of information has blown a whirlwind of speculation. Plus, in this case, artful comments from Bales’ defense attorney.

Much of the speculation concerns post-traumatic stress syndrome. Specifically, whether the slaughter was triggered by PTSD.

There are several problems with this notion. For starters, the Army has said nothing about whether Bales actually suffered from PTSD. His wife has said she saw no signs of it.

The estimates of soldiers who return from war with the disorder runs as high as 30 percent. That leaves a minimum of 70 percent who don’t come back with PTSD. Was Bales among the minority who do? We simply don’t know.

More to the point, soldiers and veterans who’ve had PTSD aren’t known for mass murder. The disorder can cause anguish, nightmares and flashbacks; it can trigger domestic abuse and even suicide.

But it doesn’t connect any dots for violence of the March 11 magnitude. The attempts to turn it into an explanation imply that other soldiers with the same condition are also at risk of becoming bloodthirsty berserkers.
Read more »

March
19th

After 10 years of war, the Army looks due for relief

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Individual soldiers have their breaking points. So do armies.

We don’t know the story behind a staff sergeant’s alleged massacre of Afghan villagers March 11, but it’s reasonable to assume he was not a paragon of mental health. The fact that he was on his fourth combat deployment may have had something to do with that.

The entire U.S. Army might be described as on its fourth deployment – or fifth, or eighth – since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq broke out, respectively, in 2001 and 2003. It’s hardly facing collapse, but symptoms of stress – such as a spiking suicide rate – are all too evident. Read more »