The names of the killer and the killed

It took close to a week before Robert Bales’ name was released.

One gets the impression that this delay served a purpose: that his name should not simply be attached to a pile of dead bodies; that along with the name there would be a biography, a smiling face and as much as possible in this interval there could be created some distance between the killer and the killed.

Robert Bales is a good American who did something bad.

The home of Robert Bales, the US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, in Lake Tapps, Washington, stood empty last night.

The family of the 38-year-old sergeant, who has plunged US policy in Afghanistan into one of its worst crises, has been moved to Lewis-McChord army base where Bales’s unit, the 3rd Stryker Brigade, has its headquarters. Now his house is up for sale.

The first journalists from a Fox news affiliate – the network that revealed his name after a six-day blackout imposed by the Pentagon – found neighbours surprised and baffled by the revelation that the man they knew as Bob was accused of massacring women and children during a murderous rampage through a village in Afghanistan’s Panjwai district.

“Bob’s a normal guy,” former neighbour Paul Wohlberg told Fox. “Not normal now but, yeah …” Another neighbour, Kassie Holland, told US media: “He always had a great attitude about being in the service. He seemed just like, yeah, it’s my job, it’s … what I do.”

The picture of Bales that is emerging is a long way from the man who spoke to the Northwest Guardian three years ago after the battle of Zarqa in Iraq, when he insisted that what differentiated soldiers like him from those they were fighting was the ability to distinguish between combatants and civilians. “I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day,” Bales said in that article. “We discriminated between the bad guys and the non-combatants, and then afterwards we ended up helping the people who three or four hours before were trying to kill us.

“I think that’s the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm’s way like that.”

But when it comes to the difference between Robert Bales, the American, and the people he killed, perhaps the most telling fact is that while the press dutifully waited until it got the go ahead to tell his story, no one bothered even attempting to tell the stories of the dead.

The Afghan government has not as far as I am aware been withholding anyone’s name, yet it appears that only one of the dead has been named: Muhammad Dawoud, a 55 year-old farmer.

Of the rest of the victims we know no more than these sparse details: that 11 belonged to the family of Abdul Samad. He lost his wife, four daughters between the ages of 2 and 6, four sons between 8 and 12, and two other relatives. The other victims were in the home of Hajji-Sayed who lost his wife, nephew, grandson and brother.*

Sixteen lives and this is as much as we are likely to ever know about them.


Because they are not Americans.

* Even these details are unclear. Another report said the four victims were in the home of Habibullah Khan who lost his wife, sisters and a baby nephew.

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2 thoughts on “The names of the killer and the killed

  1. Tom Hall

    The withholding of Bales’ name for so long raises numerous questions, beginning with the most obvious (and obscure): Why? As well, the apparent inability or unwillingness of media organizations to perform their duty and publish such a basic fact in the case gives cause for concern. When the soldier’s identity was finally revealed, it was done so through Fox News, an outlet with presumably very close affiliations to the Pentagon. The collusive managing of coverage in this affair should become the subject of investigation.

    The Western media’s well-rehearsed attitude to the dead in this affair provides the corollary to their concealment of Bales’ identity. He was granted whatever protection could be afforded by a week’s worth of anonymity, while the public silence cast over the lives of his victims forms an element of the atrocity itself.

  2. Óscar Palacios

    True. They were not Americans and were thus unworthy of attention. But this very phenomenon happens in every single sphere of public interest. In Mexico, we have the same every day. Ten, sixteen, nine, any number of dead and tortured every single day from the “War on Drugs”. But you just stop caring because it becomes routine. You get bored. So my guess is that news outlets know that ordinary people are just fed up with the same. But when you have a relatively uncommon event -like a Marine coldly killing 16 civilians- you have a news-worthy note for the day. We just had an earthquake in Mexico. It was just any tuesday, but -hold the presses!- we now have something that’s actually newsworthy.

    Perhaps the only newsworthy event in this massacre was the very fact that Bales’ name was concealed for so long. Everything else is just routine. Yeah, there’ll be a trial, debates about whether the trial should’ve taken place in Afghanistan, news anchors speaking about it, really nice and well-written pieces about it, and everything else. Welcome to the Routine.

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