Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is accused of killing 16 people in a village in Afghanistan, including nine children and three women. Most people suspected of such a heinous crime garner very little, if any, sympathy from the public. Yet it appears the Bales case could be an exception.
Bales served three tours of duty in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan late last year. He may have sustained what is being called a "traumatic" brain injury during his final tour in Iraq, and he may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Some are speculating that these factors led to Bales "snapping," and if that turns out to be the case, they don't blame Bales at all.
"(Afghan war veterans) believe that this incident is not a case of one 'bad apple' but the effect of a continued U.S. military policy of drone strikes, night raids, and helicopter attacks where Afghan civilians pay the price," wrote Aaron Hughes, one of the organizers of the website Iraq Veterans Against the War.
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"I kind of sympathize for him, being gone, being sent over there four times," Beau Britt, a neighbor of Bales in Washington state, told The Associated Press. "I can understand he's probably quite wracked mentally, so I just hope that things are justified in court. I hope it goes okay."
But not everybody feels this way. Retired Army Lt. Col. Fred Wellman said the idea of the "broken veteran" is nonsense.
"That may play well with certain circles of the civilian community, which doesn't understand our lives," Wellman said. "But he's going to be tried by a military court ... and chances are three or four of those guys had things happen to them, may have had three or four tours, may have lost people, may have been blown up. And NONE of them snapped and killed 16 people." He added: "It's just too easy, and a lot of us, we're not buying it."