The Afghan parliament is investigating, and they aren’t buying the Americans’ story of a "lone nut." Nor is President Hamid Karzai:
"In an emotional meeting with relatives of the shooting victims, Karzai said the villagers’ accounts of the massacre were widely different from the scenario depicted by U.S. military officials. The relatives and villagers insisted that it was impossible for one gunmen to kill nine children, four men and three women in three houses of two villages near a U.S. combat outpost in southern Afghanistan.
"Karzai pointed to one of the villagers from Panjwai district of Kandahar province and said:
"’In his family, in four rooms people were killed — children and women were killed — and then they were all brought together in one room and then set on fire. That, one man cannot do.’
"Karzai said the delegation he sent to Kandahar province to investigate the shootings did not receive the expected co-operation from the United States. He said many questions remained about what occurred, and he would be raising the questions with the U.S. military ‘very loudly.’"
The infamous "night raids" carried out by US troops have been a source of contention between Karzai and the Americans. As one commentator described them:
"The method employed is simple: Identify those who provide financial support or protection to the militants. And those who even have sympathies with them. Constitute teams which would go to the houses so identified, knock at the door and as soon as the wanted man appears, shoot him dead. At times a substitute is killed who may be a guest in the house but was unlucky to greet the intruders at the door. On an average about 50 night raids take place daily. And every night about 25 people are killed in cold blood in different parts of the country."
This is the "new" counterinsurgency doctrine – which is supposed to win "hearts and minds" – in practice: a program of systematic terror designed to dry up support for the Taliban by driving up the costs of collaborating with them. One may credibly argue it isn’t working, but this question seems beside the point: such a murderous strategy mandates the commission of war crimes. Whether it is "working" or not is irrelevant.
Another suspicious aspect of this whole affair is the extraordinary aura of secrecy surrounding it. The Pentagon kept Bales’s identity under wraps as long as it could, unlike in the case of, say, Major Hasan, the Ft. Hood shooter, whose name was out there almost as soon as the news hit the wires. In addition, they have treated Bales as if he were a cache of radioactive material, keeping him in complete isolation after spiriting him out of Afghanistan to Kuwait – without having notified the Kuwaitis – where his presence caused consternation and protests from the local authorities when it was discovered. He was soon back in the US, greeted by a cascade of sympathetic accounts in the media detailing his battlefield injuries, his "patriotic" persona, his alleged PTSD, and his myriad financial problems. As of this writing, he has been charged with 17 counts of murder: apparently the initial count of the dead was wrong.
The Afghans say the US military has been less than cooperative with the parliamentary investigation, and the Afghan chief of staff claims he was refused permission to see Bales. All of this has led to an outcry in Afghanistan, where the local are saying this was an organized revenge killing rather than Sergeant Psycho on a rampage. Which raises an intriguing question: organized by whom?
It seems to me there are two possibilities:
1) This was the result of a "rogue" group of soldiers acting on their own, motivated by the previous IED attack. Reports that Bales was drinking with a group of other soldiers the night of the massacre conjure images of a late-night venting climaxed by a senseless act of terror.
2) It was a "night raid" gone horribly wrong. This is suggested by the fact that the "official" story of what happened that night limns these night raids to a tee, except for the number of military personnel involved. And Karzai has a point: it is certainly possible Bales went to two residences, killed 16 women and children, and then gathered up the bodies and burned them in the space of a couple of hours, with no assistance from anyone — but how likely is it? About as likely as Bales’s claim not to remember anything of that night.
What is striking is how seamlessly these two scenarios blend into each other: even if this heinous crime was carried out by a "rogue" group of soldiers, how different is it from those night raids where they are acting under orders? The direct threats issued to the villagers, however, points to the possibility that they were acting with the knowledge of at least some higher-ups, who must have authorized the round-up, the use of a translator, and even the participation of the Afghan army.
What is worrying is that the numerous reports coming out of Afghanistan of rampant war crimes committed by "rogue" soldiers – "kill teams" – indicates a complete breakdown of the US chain of command. At the top of the command structure, the grand strategists and theoreticians are constructing elaborate theories of counterinsurgency warfare designed to win over the populace and deny the Taliban a victory. However, by the time "clear, hold, and build" trickles down to the ranks in the field, it becomes "clear, hold, and kill."