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Sat March 17, 2012
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Soldier Suspected Of Killing Afghans In Kan. Prison

Originally published on Sun March 18, 2012 10:07 am

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Jacki Lyden. The soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians is today being held at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales now has an attorney and the lines of his defense are beginning to emerge. The case has also put America's prosecution of the war in Afghanistan on trial. There are new disputes between the U.S. and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

In a moment, we'll talk to two experts about the challenges of fighting a counterinsurgency war. First, we're joined by NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, to get the latest on this story. Good morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Jacki.

LYDEN: Tom, what more do we know about the soldier accused in these killings?

BOWMAN: Well, as you said, he's hired a lawyer, a high-profile criminal defense lawyer out of Seattle, John Henry Browne, and his lawyer has given us a glimpse into his background. First of all, he knocked down reports of any marital tension here. Sgt. Bales is married with two kids, and his lawyer's been playing up his Iraq service. He did three tours in Iraq. Army records show he received no medals for valor or Purple Hearts, but all indications are that he served honorably in Iraq.

But his lawyer said he did not want to go to Afghanistan and has raised questions about whether he was physically fit to deploy to Afghanistan. And one more thing he's saying is that the day before the shootings in Afghanistan, a fellow soldier was badly wounded, and that may have been a factor in his state of mind. But of course, what we're hearing now is a beginning of a defense, and clearly his lawyer will be putting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on trial instead of his client's behavior.

LYDEN: Well, some of the stresses on Staff Sgt. Bales that have come from the government officials is a little bit different, isn't it?

BOWMAN: Right. A Pentagon source tells me that the investigators are looking into whether alcohol was involved the night before these shootings. They're also talking about possible marital stress. And again, it's important to keep in mind that a legal case is being built here, even before charges have been filed. People are leaking information about him just trying to build a case one way or another.

LYDEN: Tom, what are the procedures for determining if someone's fit to deploy or suffering from PTSD?

BOWMAN: Well, they go through a series of tests prior to deployment - physical tests, mental tests. Sixty days prior to deployment they take this written test to determine whether they have PTSD or not. And clearly it's not a perfect test, but one would think if there were particular problems, they would flag a soldier who, you know, did poorly on the test, and they might not be ready to deploy. I've asked the Army how many have actually failed this test, but they didn't really have statistics immediately available.

LYDEN: Of course, it's the latest incident to complicate U.S. and Afghan relations, and America's plan for winding down its role in the war.

BOWMAN: Right. Of course we had the Quran burning. They're still investigating another instance of Marines urinating on dead suspected Talibans. There's a great deal of anger in Afghanistan among the population and the government as well. This will further damage relations with President Karzai. And also it's called into question the, you know, the counterinsurgency strategy here as well. President Karzai wants to pull American troops out of villages, but that's a key to reaching the population. That's the most important part of the counterinsurgency strategy.

LYDEN: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thank you, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.