Soldier Suspected In Afghan Shootings Identified

Pentagon officials say Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is the soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians on Sunday. He was being flown Friday from Kuwait to a military detention center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. NPR's Tom Bowman talks to Melissa Block about Bales.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. We now know the name of the American soldier who's in custody for killing 16 Afghan civilians last weekend. NPR has confirmed he is Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. And for more, we're joined by NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, the name has been withheld now for nearly a week since that shooting happened. Why is it out now?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, Melissa, my guess is that more and more people know about it, both within the military, outside the military. He's hired a high-profile lawyer in Seattle. And he's also being moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to a pretrial detention facility. Again, it's very high-profile, a lot more people know about it, and it just kind of slipped out. That's my guess.

BLOCK: And why would there have been the delay up till now?

BOWMAN: Well, from his lawyer's standpoint, he was concerned about the safety for Sergeant Bales' family. They lived off-post in the Tacoma area. Now - they've now been moved on base at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. And from the government's perspective, they want to protect the investigation. They don't want the name to get out. They want to keep as much inside as possible. And they were, of course, planning to release a name once he was charged.

BLOCK: A lot, Tom, is still unclear, but there are some details that are coming out about Sergeant Bales. Tell us about that.

BOWMAN: Well, his attorney spoke of him and offered some details about him. He, first of all, denied reports that he had an unhappy marriage, and he said the soldier basically didn't want to deploy to Afghanistan. He served three times in Iraq. He'd been wounded before. And his lawyer had said he physically not ready to deploy to Afghanistan back in December, but, of course, soldiers go through physical and psychological tests before deployment to make sure they're fit for duty. And we have a sense that's what happened in this case. There are other stories coming out. People I talk with at the Pentagon say that investigators are looking into his alcohol use just before he left his combat outpost on Sunday and allegedly killed 16 Afghan men, women and children.

BLOCK: There was another detail that his lawyer had said, that he - according to the lawyer - Sergeant Bales had seen another soldier's leg blown off while he was standing next to him.

BOWMAN: Yeah, that's right. Apparently, the day before this alleged rampage, he did see one of his fellow soldiers get seriously wounded. So, that may have been, you know, part of what happened to him.

BLOCK: And, again, that's what the lawyer says. No way to verify that at this point.

BOWMAN: Exactly. That's right.

BLOCK: Tom, you mentioned that Sergeant Bales is being moved to Fort Leavenworth. What happens next?

BOWMAN: Well, what's next is he'll be charged, probably - some people say - within the next week or so. And then they'll go through what's called an Article 32 hearing. It's basically the military's equivalent of a grand jury to see if there's enough evidence for him to stand a court martial.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Melissa.

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