Soldier Sentenced To Life Without Parole In Massacre Of 16 Afghan Civilians

The solider who was responsible for the 2011 massacre of 16 Afghan civilians has been sentenced to life in prison:

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty to slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians inside their homes, will spend the rest of his life in prison, a military jury decided on Friday.

The decision came after three days of wrenching testimony that painted a moment-by-moment, bullet-by-bullet account of one of the worst atrocities of the United States’ long war in Afghanistan.

The six-member military jury considering Sergeant Bales’s fate had two options: sentence him to life in prison with no possibility of parole, or allow him a chance at freedom after about 20 years behind bars. His guilty plea in June removed the death penalty from the table.

In pressing for mercy, the defense team said Sergeant Bales had been a good soldier, a loving father and a stand-up friend before snapping after four combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. But prosecutors said he was a man frustrated with his career and family, easy to anger, whose rage erupted at the end of his M-4 rifle.

“He liked murder,” a prosecutor, Lt. Col. Jay Morse, said in closing arguments on Friday. “He liked the power it gave him.”

In the end, the jury sided with that argument. It deliberated for about 90 minutes before returning to a courtroom packed with soldiers, relatives of Sergeant Bales, and nine Afghan men and boys who had testified earlier in the week about the harm Sergeant Bales had inflicted on them and their families.

As the sentence was read, an interpreter gave a thumbs-up sign to the Afghans. On the other side of the courtroom, Sergeant Bales’s mother wept, holding her face in her hands. Sergeant Bales, 40, showed no reaction. He responded with polite “yes, sirs” to the judge’s questions about his appellate rights, before being led away.

He will be dishonorably discharged.

Outside the court, the Afghan villagers told reporters that the sentence did little to ease their anger and loss. Many wanted Sergeant Bales to be executed, and said his crimes represented the barest fraction of the pain and death that Afghans have endured over the last decade.

The men tugged at the maroon pants of a boy named Sadiqullah, revealing a leg scarred and disfigured by bullet wounds.

“We came all the way to the U.S. to get justice,” said Haji Mohammed Wazir, who lost 11 members of his family in the massacre. “We didn’t get that.”

Had Staff Sgt. Bales not plead guilty, his case would have assuredly been appropriate for death penalty consideration. That said, though, it strikes me that a life sentence with no possibility of parole strikes me as entirely appropriate in this case.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Military Affairs, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Yeah, I think the human race will find a way to get along without further contributions from this man.

  2. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: true, maybe he can room with hassan!? a good reality tv show in there.

  3. 11B40 says:


    Interesting headline comparison:

    “Soldier Sentenced To Life Without Parole In Massacre Of 16 Afghan Civilians”

    “Military Jury Convicts Nidal Hasan On All Counts”

  4. PJ says:

    Exactly what is your point with the comparison?

  5. Rusty Shackleford says:


    I think Nadal Hasan is more of a household name.

  6. PJ says:

    @Rusty Shackleford:
    Exactly, there are two blog posts about Robert Bales on OTB (the other one is from March 2012) and 26 mentioning Nidal Hasan.

    People know about Nidal Hasan and what he did. A lot fewer know who Robert Bales is or what he did.

    Or maybe 11B40 wants the Fort Hood shooting to be called a massacre too?

  7. michael reynolds says:


    Somewhere in Hollywood a producer thinks, “Hmmmm. . .”

  8. 11B40 says:

    @PJ & Rusty Shackleford:

    Greetings, Gentlemens:

    As a way former infantryman, I quite admire the impulse to throw oneself on any type of grenade. I’ve never felt that impulse myself, almost regrettably, but I understand that it aligns with one of our failing society’s highest falling values, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, associates, or even passersby.

    And, I am grateful for your willingness to share your surmises. I have a degree of certitude that they will prove useful as we together face our diminishing future. It is after all our progressively corrected values that really bind us together in these darkening days.

    At the risk of appearing reprehensible, however, I was kind of sort of hoping, in a totally unearned kind of sort of way without violating any of the author’s “human” rights, to hear back from the author. I seem to have fixated on the idea that if anyone can explain those headlines, it is he. Which is certainly not to disregard all the wonderful work of that Austrian-speaking doctor back in old Vienna of a century or so ago who seemed quite convinced, and even managed to quite convince a number of others, that not all adults know what is really motivating their behaviors.

  9. David in KC says:

    I tried to type a response up to 11B40’s post, but its tough to respond to crap like that. Headlines are for page views. The cases are different on a number of substantive issues and the cases are at different phases of the trial and one was contested and one was a guilty plea. Beyond the body count, there is virtually no similarities between the cases. Trying to make a shallow point about headlines is bizarre. And the response above is unintelligible. Methinks someone was partaking of his evening libations early.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    At the risk of appearing reprehensible…

    It is far too late to worry about that risk, as that threshold was crossed a long time ago…

  11. Rob in CT says:

    Everybody (or damn near everybody) knows who Nidal Hassan is: the Fort Hood shooter.

    Far fewer, including myself even though I heard all about the trial on NPR the other day, know that Robert Bales is the guy who murdered 16 Afghans. This is probably due to: 1) a lot more media coverage of Hassan’s crime; and 2) for me at least, Robert Bales isn’t that memorable of a name, whereas Nidal Hassan stuck in my mind. Probably more #1 than #2. By a lot.

    This is pretty straightforward. But our esteemed host failed to account for the depth of the Conservative Victimhood Complex (speaking of a certain Austrian Doctor, perhaps he would have been able to treat it?).

  12. Rob in CT says:

    Regarding Mr. Bales and his crimes… IIRC, he did 2 (or 3?) tours in Iraq and then 1 or 2 in Afghanistan. That’s a lot. Who knows what role that played? Perhaps he liked the idea of killing, which is why he was a soldier and kept going back? Perhaps he was pretty normal, but the strain of multiple tours in warzones screwed him up?

    Perhaps we shouldn’t be fighting stupid, unwinnable wars? Nah, that can’t be it. There’s work to be done in Syria, after all.