Bales wanted peers to think well of him in aftermath of Kandahar killings

Tacoma News TribuneNovember 6, 2012 

US NEWS USAFGHAN-SUSPECT TC

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, left, is shown during an exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, Aug. 23, 2011.

U.S. ARMY PHOTO — MCT

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales wanted his fellow soldiers at a Special Forces outpost in southern Afghanistan to think well of him even as they sent him away from their base in custody for allegedly killing 16 civilians, witnesses said today.

“Pretty sick (stuff) is going to come of this,” Bales told his guards in the hours after soldiers apprehended him outside Village Stability Platform Belambay. “I hope you guys don’t think less of me.”

For the most part, stunned soldiers did their best to keep up Bales’ spirits in those early hours on March 11 after he returned to their combat outpost with blood on his clothes and a “ghostlike” look on his face.

They told him to take a shower, encouraged him to think of his family, and heard him out when Bales suggested he targeted “military age males” when he left Belambay by himself in the dark of night.

“You guys are going to thank me come June,” he told Sgt. 1st Class James Stillwell, referring to the traditional summertime Afghan fighting season.

Bales is in court today for the second day of a two-week evidence hearing that could lead to a death-penalty court-martial for the 39-year-old soldier from Lake Tapps. He appeared quiet but a little restless in court today as witnesses described how they took him into custody on March 11.

Two soldiers who guarded him that day said they gave Bales the benefit of the doubt when he told them he wanted to retrieve his laptop while he awaited a helicopter flight out of Belambay. Bales told them he wanted to make sure it wouldn’t get destroyed, Stillwell remembered.

Stillwell lifted it out of a rucksack containing Bales’ clothes and left it for the captive staff sergeant. Bales promptly snapped it, Stillwell testified today.

The tone around Bales changed at Belambay as soldiers learned that women and children were among his victims. Up until then, Stillwell and another guard let Bales join a conversation about football.

They shut him out once a soldier who knew Bales well told them about the possible civilian casualties, Sgt. 1st Class Derek King testified today.

“Don’t be cool with (Bales),” Cpl. David Godwin told King that night, King remembered. Godwin had known Bales for at least three years.

Even in those early hours, Bales apparently suspected he was heading to a hearing like the one he is in today. His base commander, Capt. Dan Fields, asked Bales what happened as soldiers brought him back to Belambay.

Bales declined to answer.

“If I tell you, you guys will have to testify,” Stillwell remembered Bales telling the captain.

The witness list for this afternoon is changing. Bales’ defense attorneys have declined to call two witnesses they requested.

Several junior soldiers from Bales’ Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Stryker squad likely will testify after lunch. Col. Todd Wood, who commanded an Army brigade in Kandahar Province last year, also is on the witness list.

*******

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales seemed resigned to his fate in the hours after his fellow soldiers apprehended him amid reports that he slaughtered Afghan villagers in the dead of night eight months ago, two Green Berets testified today.

“It seemed as if the adrenaline had come down, and he was coming back to reality,” said Sgt. 1st Class Derek King of the 7th Special Forces Group.

King guarded Bales for about six hours on the morning of March 11, just after a bloodied Bales returned to Village Stability Platform Belambay in Kandahar Province.

King testified today at the second day of an evidence hearing for Bales, who faces charges that he murdered 16 Afghans during a nighttime rampage in two villages outside Belambay.

At first, Bales came into the fold with a combative tone.

“Are you (expletive) kidding me?” he shouted at two soldiers who raised their weapons at him while he jogged into Belambay, three witnesses have testified.

But gradually King saw Bales start to consider his future and his family at home. Bales is a father of two who used to live in Lake Tapps with his wife, Kari.

“They’re probably not going to let me see my wife and kids,” King remembered Bales telling him.

For the second straight day, soldiers who served with Bales at Belambay expressed their disbelief that someone would independently leave a NATO combat outpost to kill Afghan villagers.

“Utter amazement,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Lance Allard, another 7th Special Forces Group Green Beret who was the No. 2 commander at Belambay.

Emma Scanlan, Bales’ defense attorney, asked Allard to elaborate on a previous statement he made in which he said going outside the wire as Bales allegedly did would be “just plain stupid.”

Allard explained that soldiers normally dress themselves in body armor and coordinate their plans to protect themselves. Witnesses said Bales did not wear his Kevlar vest when they saw him return to Belambay. Instead, he had a sheet tied around his neck like a cape.

King also overheard Bales connect his alleged massacre to a previous ambush soldiers encountered near Belambay. At the time, Bales of Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division was frustrated that the American Special Forces commander leading the patrol did not have the attacker killed when a surveillance camera spotted the enemy’s position.

“You guys don’t have to worry about that guy anymore,” Bales told King, King remembered today.

King remembered Bales making one more mysterious comment during the hours he waited for a helicopter flight out of Belambay.

“I guess four was too many,” King said Bales said to himself.

Prosecutors allege that Bales killed Afghans in four separate homes.

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