No Officers Held Accountable for Botched Afghan Drone Strike, While Enlisted Soldier Remains in Prison
In response to the murder of 13 American service members outside the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, the Biden administration ordered a U.S. drone strike on August 29 against the purported ISIS-K attackers. Instead, the drone strike killed up to 10 civilians, including 7 children. One of the dead Afghans was Zemari Ahmadi, a “longtime worker for a U.S. aid group”, according to a New York Times report.
This week, despite previously calling the incident a “tragic mistake” the Pentagon confirmed that no one will be held accountable for that reckless act after having been reviewed and approved by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin based upon recommendations from U.S. Central Command leader Gen. Kenneth McKenzie and U.S. Special Operations Command leader Gen. Richard Clarke.
Meanwhile an American soldier, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, is in prison after the government sentenced him to life without parole.
In August of 2013, Bales was convicted of sixteen counts of murder for what he believed to be, a pre-emptive strike against Taliban fighters who had previously harmed U.S. servicemen – many of whom Bales served with – and were coordinating other attacks. The Taliban accused Bales of killing sixteen civilians, including women and children. Bales claimed he killed twenty people, and regrettably acknowledges he killed some women and children, while killing Taliban enemy combatants.
In similar situations, where civilians are killed and while our government targets enemy combatants during a drone strike, the civilian casualties are referred to “collateral damage” and no one is held accountable for murder.
Was the incident involving Bales “murder,” where civilians were targeted, “collateral damage,” where civilians were killed while targeting enemy combatants, or was it just a “tragic mistake”?
Sadly, we will never know exactly who was killed during the Bales’ incident. Why?
Because, unlike in this latest drone strike, where each of the 10 civilians, including the 7 children, who were killed, were identified, and not one was identified as an enemy combatant, in the Bales’ incident, the identities were never determined, other than claims by the Taliban. No one examined the bodies, conducted autopsies, or performed a thorough forensic analysis to confirm that the alleged “war crime” (i.e., murders) were accurate.
The prosecution never cross referenced the DNA samples that were collected to determine if they were connected to civilians or enemy combatants. Had they done that it would have likely yielded a significantly different outcome with the case.
Bales’ case was no different than the many documented cases of the Taliban falsely accusing American servicemen of killing civilians in the hope of the media running with the story, leading to international condemnation, both at home and abroad, of America’s actions while our Nation is at war.
Despite the discrepancies between the government prosecution’s case and the facts, the U.S. government violated Bales’ rights because they:
- DID NOT afford Bales the presumption of innocence – President Obama instructed the military to “prosecute the case aggressively” and Defense Secretary Panetta said Bales could face the “death penalty,” prior to any charges or investigation.
- DID NOT challenge allegations the Afghan’s made against Bales, a U.S. Soldier.
- DID NOT examine the bodies nor conduct autopsies/forensics to confirm allegations. No one saw the bodies, other than those in the village (i.e., Taliban). Not even Afghan CID saw the bodies. They actually came under fire and had one Afghan Soldier killed when attempting to investigate the allegations.
- DID NOT confirm if those killed were enemy combatants via biometrics, despite the prosecution collecting DNA evidence.
- DID threaten Bales with the death penalty to coerce an inaccurate/incomplete confession.
- DID have Taliban enemy combatants as witnesses at Bales’ Article 32 hearing.
- DID NOT prove their case in a trial. Went straight to sentencing after the confession.
- DID fly in Taliban enemy combatants, with aliases, to testify against Bales at sentencing.
- DID NOT appropriately evaluate bales’ “mens rea” (mindset/intent for murder).
- DID NOT disclose the army administered bales “mefloquine” – an anti-malaria drug with psychotic effects but stopped administering it to soldiers after Bales’ incident.
As is well known, in Washington, D.C., the words under the apex at the Supreme Court state, “Equal Justice Under Law”. However, our senior military leaders far too often do not adhere to that.
How is it that nearly a decade after Robert Bales’ incident, a government-ordered drone strike in which innocent civilians are killed results in zero accountability of those who made that decision and carried it out? Arguably because the media is very selective about their reporting and – more specifically – the outrage with which they frame the story.
Why did the U.S. government so quickly believe the allegations made by Afghans against Bales, quickly holding him accountable, yet the 2021 drone strike was simply swept under the rug?
When Bales’ incident occurred, there was a lot on the line politically for those in U.S. politics and the senior military leadership ranks in terms of the optics of their “success” in Afghanistan. The same should be true today, however, the war is now over and those in power simply want us to move on and forget what happened.
With thousands of Taliban prisoners being released back to their home countries where they will undoubtedly plan and carry out acts of terror against Americans, and, it has been confirmed, many already have, while our service members remain in prison. It is a travesty.
While it is appalling that not one senior officer will be held accountable for the disastrous drone strike carried out against Afghan civilians, it is far worse that an enlisted U.S. Soldier, Robert Bales, will remain in prison based upon the evidence (or lack of evidence) as Taliban terrorists go free. The double standard shown in these cases is a slap in the face to our warriors and their families, while giving the enemy we fought against for two decades a pat on the back as we pay for them to fly home.
In light of how the Pentagon has handled this latest drone strike, Robert Bales must be set free.