In jailhouse interviews, former soldier Robert Bales told an editor from GQ magazine that he was on “autopilot” on the March 2012 night when he committed one of the worst atrocities of the Afghanistan war by slaughtering 16 civilians in their own homes.
Bales’ interview with GQ Editor Brendan Vaughn marks the first time the former Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier has made public remarks outside of a military courtroom about the massacre he committed while on his fourth Stryker Brigade combat deployment.
The material in the story is similar to his testimony at his August 2013 court-martial and the appeal for clemency he submitted last year last year to JBLM senior Army officer Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza. (Lanza rejected the clemency request.)
In each case, the career JBLM soldier has struggled to explain why he twice sneaked out of a Special Forces outpost that night in Kandahar province to murder men, women and children. He again apologized to his fellow soldiers, whose lives he put in danger by killing innocents.
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The comments are almost identical to his confession at his court-martial.
“I want to say to those guys that I hurt—my guys, the patriot brotherhood—I want them to know I'm sorry. I don't want nothing but good things for my soldiers. I hope that in some way they can understand how sorry I am. They're my family, and I love them,” Bales told GQ.
The piece includes several haunting passages, including one in which Bales said he knew he was killing children.
“The kid comes running out, screaming, from almost the same (direction) where the dog came from. I shot the kid,” Bales told GQ. “It was a quick reaction. You know, to be honest, you know — I hate it. I hate it. Every day, I think about it all the time.”
Bales also tried to distinguish himself from notorious American killers, such as James Holmes, who opened fire in a Colorado movie theater, and Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six in Tucson, Arizona, while seriously wounding U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
“It wasn't like I was looking to go into a school and open up on a bunch of kids,” he told the magazine.
Seven of Bales’ victims were younger than 15 years old. Four were children younger than 5.
Bales, as he has done in the past, implied he was overcome with combat-related stress and seeking to protect fellow soldiers. He seemed to curse civilians in the villages he attacked, saying if they were good people, they wouldn’t have allowed insurgents to hide in their midst.
“You wouldn't have terrorists running to your house, bleeding. You wouldn't have people run to your house for aid, where you have your wife and children sleeping. You just wouldn't do it. To me, that's hard. That's really, really hard to comprehend … So I blamed them, but I took it out on (the women and children). I was just raging,” he told GQ.
Bales is serving a life sentence without an opportunity for parole at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He spoke with Vaughn by phone, hoping to “humanize” his story.
At the time of the killings, he was a 10-year Army veteran and father of two children living in Lake Tapps. Bales served his entire Army career with JBLM’s 3rd Brigade, 2rd Infantry Division.
He acknowledged to GQ that he was considering leaving the Army after his second Iraq deployment. In court, he said he sought mental health treatment after his third tour, but quit before completing it.
Bales on his last deployment served on an unusual assignment that placed him and several other JBLM infantrymen at a small outpost working alongside a veteran Special Forces team. His teammates from the tour described him to Army investigators as “paranoid.”