The Afghan View on US Soldier and Convicted Killer, Robert Bales

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Marco Werman: Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales has been sentenced to life in military prison without the possibility of parole. That's the verdict of a military jury at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. Bales had admitted killing 16 unarmed Afghan civilians on March 11th, 2012, in Afghanistan. On that night, Bales left his military base, unauthorized and alone. He raided two villages near Kandahar, killing everyone he came across: men, women, children. Then he calmly returned to base. Not surprisingly, his case has gotten a lot of attention in Afghanistan.

Lotfullah Najafizada: It was indeed a very tragic incident and the Afghan people talk about it all the time

Werman: Lotfullah Najafizada is Head of Current Affairs for Tolo News, Afghanistan's first 24/7 news channel. It was almost midnight there when the verdict was announced, but he says he expects people in Afghanistan will be satisfied with the maximum sentence handed down to Bales today.

Najafizada: They just some sort of a comfort to convince or to relay the message back to the Afghan people and also to the relatives of the victims back in Kandahar. It also affects the relationship between the two countries, especially now that we are talking about some sort of post-2014 [??] relationship mainly in this fare, military, and that includes some sort of a bilateral security agreement. Part of it is an immunity for the US forces post-2014 and this is affecting that negotiation.

Werman: Bales's defense team had tried to convince the military jury that he should be eligible one day for parole. They described Bales as a man who volunteered for the army immediately after the attacks on 9/11. He was on his fourth combat tour and his lawyers argued that he finally snapped from the stress. But that didn't seem to move the jurors at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Lotfullah Najafizada says that didn't move Afghans either and they've been at war for more than 30 years.

Najafizada: I think crime is a crime and this has been the most horrific crime in the past twelve years committed by an US soldier. And that has turned to be the image of the US military presence in our country. So I don't think that's something which the Afghan people really understand, you know, some serving full-time deployment in Afghanistan or Iraq, that's not really a kind of very excuse, especially for the people, as you said, who are born in the war and grown up in the war and still that cannot be an excuse. We know that a lot of people died in our country, more than twenty a day, but such an incident was unique and that has left a very bad impression of the US presence in our country. So it's not only about one incident or a few victims. It's about the two countries and the two nations understanding each other and building trust.

Werman: Now, Najafizada said the Americans have done a lot to build trust by taking the Bales case so seriously. He said Afghans praise the way so many witnesses were brought to testify in the United States.

Najafizada: I mean it showed that the US government is serious about it. We have talked to I think almost everyone familiar with the incident or relatives of the victims or the witnesses. I think the message it sent out from the US is that the Americans are listening to the Afghans. So it was a good development.

Werman: Lotfullah Najafizada has one final thought. What would happen to an Afghan soldier who did something similar to what Robert Bales admitted to doing?

Najafizada: Probably execution. Probably a life sentence or even probably some sort of very traditional act of revenge. I mean tribes might have fought and there could have been a lot of other ways of just acting as a revenge, especially if an Afghan soldier is coming from a different village or a different tribe and committing the crime in a different village or a different province. So that's when the people will act. But in an ideal situation, I mean the government would have taken it very seriously, I think probably a life sentence would have been a satisfactory-made decision or a verdict. But in our country, of course, you don't because, for instance, in the past thirty years we've seen a lot of changes in the government, different forms of the government. No one really served like thirty years in prison, so that could be kinda an argument here that you can't hold someone in prison a lifetime.

Werman: Lotfullah Najafizada is Head of Current Affairs for Tolo News, Afghanistan's first 24/7 news channel. We also note today the verdict in another high-profile military case – a jury at Fort Hood in Texas found Major Nidal Hasan guilty on all counts. Hasan shot and killed thirteen people at Fort Hood in 2009. He could now face the death penalty.