Robert Bales: Suspect Robert Bales’ Portrait

March 19, 2012 by staff 

Robert Bales: Suspect Robert Bales’ Portrait, For nearly a week, the military kept a lid of secrecy over the Army soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers. At the base south of Tacoma, officials advised Army families in his unit to stay quiet and admonished the press to respect their privacy.

At the Pentagon, senior officials leaked out selected details of the soldier’s background even as they removed links to public-affairs articles that detailed some of his experiences in Iraq and his involvement in a training exercise in Afghanistan.

But as the week wore on, the Defense Department began to lose control of the flow of information about the suspect, and the portrait that emerged was of a soldier who earlier had performed with honor on the battlefield yet struggled on the homefront.

This narrative has intensified debate about how long U.S. troops should stay in Afghanistan. It also turns some of the scrutiny back onto the Army, and on whether enough is being done to support combat troops as they face the physical and emotional tolls of lives split, often over the course of multiple tours, between combat zones and families.

John Henry Browne, a media-savvy Seattle attorney, announced Thursday that he had spoken with the suspect and would represent him. Browne then promptly held a news conference, describing his client as a dedicated but war-weary soldier who, after injuries and three tours of duty in Iraq, had not wanted to make a fourth trip to the front lines.

In the days that followed, after 38-year-old Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was identified as the suspect, two Army officers who had served with him decided to speak publicly, describing him not as a rogue individual but as a man whom — up until the alleged killings — they knew as an exemplary front-line soldier. Bales’ prior record of service included more than a decade with his Lewis-McChord brigade, and he was part of the cadre of seasoned soldiers that has helped sustain more than a decade of warfare overseas.

“Please keep SSG Robert Bales in your prayers. I know his alleged crime is terrible, but he is not terrible,” wrote Capt. Chris Alexander in a Facebook posting. “He is one of the best guys I’ve ever served with.”

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