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.