Conflict & Justice

Army tried to erase Sgt. Bales from the Internet after Kandahar massacre


A man identified as Robert Bales appears in this Defense Department photograph published in High Desert Warrior, a publication at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin in California.

The US Army tried to erase Sgt. Robert Bales' Internet presence after he went on a shooting rampage in Afghanistan's Kandahar province on March 10, McClatchy newspapers' D.C. bureau reported

Staff Sgt. Bales is currently in custody in Kansas, awaiting sentencing for the murder of Afghan civilians. On Thursday, the US Defense Department announced that the death toll in the shooting rampage increased from 16 to 17, ABC News reported. Officials did not explain the change in the number of victims.

More from GlobalPost: The lessons of Sgt. Robert Bales

The military waited six days before releasing any information on the identity of soldier Robert Bales in an attempt to buy time to erase the sergeant's online presence, several Pentagon officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity told McClatchy. 

The material that the army attempted to wipe clean from the Internet included photographs of Bales from the military’s official photo and video distribution website, quotes by the 38-year-old sergeant in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord newspaper regarding a 2007 battle in Iraq “which depicts Bales and other soldiers in a glowing light,” and his wife Karilyn Bales' blog, “The Bales Family,” about her life as a mother and military spouse, according to Wired Magazine

“Protecting a military family has to be a priority,” a Pentagon official told McClatchy. “I think the feeding frenzy we saw after his name was released was evidence that we were right to try.”

Karilyn Bales has refrained from commenting on her husband's unfolding case, but she issued a statement Wednesday saying that both her and her husband’s extended families are “profoundly sad” and offered their condolences to the people of the Panjawai District in Afghanistan, where the massacre occurred, RT News reported

More from GlobalPost: Robert Bales' wife offers condolences to victims' families in Afghan massacre (VIDEO)

Several former military officers said they were perplexed that the military would attempt to remove information from the Internet that already had been made public. One called it "unusual," McClatchy reported. 

"Once a site has been accessed enough times, it's very, very difficult to remove content," Dan Auerbach, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that supports Internet access, told McClatchy. "I don't want to say it's impossible, but there's no evidence of it happening in recent times."

McClatchy points out that US Army officials released the name of Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people in a 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, immediately after the crime. Hasan, however, was single and without children, according to McClatchy. 

Sgt. Bales, who is the father of two children, could face the death penalty if convicted of the murders, RT News reported, but he may be shown some leniency by the military jury due to his record and injuries. 

More from GlobalPost: Robert Bales' lawyer says there is no evidence he is responsible for Kandahar shootings