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US Army Leaders Cleared of Wrongdoing in Soldier's Killing Spree

In this Aug. 23, 2011 image, Staff Sgt. Robert Bale participates in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. (DVIDS/Spc. Ryan Hallock via AP, File)
In this Aug. 23, 2011 image, Staff Sgt. Robert Bale participates in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. (DVIDS/Spc. Ryan Hallock via AP, File)

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales' steroids and alcohol abuse, violent behavior and racist views were well known on his Afghan outpost but escaped the notice of the "hands off" leadership before Bales went on a rampage to kill and burn 16 Afghan villagers in 2012, a report released by U.S. Central Command said Tuesday.

Bales and other non-commissioned officers on Village Stability Outpost Belambai, about 30 miles southwest of Kandahar, "tolerated and/or participated in the use of alcohol, use of steroids and inappropriate remarks and behavior with respect to Afghans," then-Brig. Gen. Ricky Waddell wrote in an Article 15-6 fact-finding investigation.

Despite the warning signs, "I find by a preponderance of the evidence that the command climate issues had no effect or contribution" to Bales' actions on March 11, 2012, when he left the post without authorization and went on a killing spree, Waddell found.

Before the massacre, an incident in which Bales "kneed and punched an Afghan truck driver" went unreported, as did the concerns of an NCO "about SSG Bales erratic behavior due to steroid abuse," according to the investigation which was ordered by Marine Gen. John Allen, then commander of the International Security Assistance Force.

Bales, who had deployed three times to Iraq before his tour in Afghanistan, was a squad leader in the Army's 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The Stryker troops shared the Belambai outpost with Operational Detachment Alpha of the Special Forces and an Afghan National Army element.

While leading a patrol, Bales told his troops to "shoot through the ANA guy, he is not a person."  He also told them that he was "not a racist unless you count Afghanis or Iraqis," the report said.

The previously classified report, which was released after numerous Freedom of Information requests, said that "junior enlisted personnel who thought certain behavior was wrong felt that they could not bring the problem to their leadership because, most often, their higher infantry leadership was committing the misconduct."

However, Bales' conduct did not "rise to the level of warnings or indicators that Bales would commit the extremely violent acts he allegedly committed on 11 March 2012" when he shot 22 villagers, including 17 women and children, killing 16. He later burned the bodies.

The "hands off" leadership style of commanders on the outpost "did not establish the command climate in which they had situational awareness of the negative acts of personal conduct" that were rampant on the base, the report found.

At his court martial, Bales pleaded guilty to murder charges to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to a life term.

In pleading for mercy, Bales said that in his combat tours he came to hate "everyone who isn't American. I became callous to them even being human. They were all enemy."

--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@monster.com

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