Heather Michon

Heather Michon
June 25
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MARCH 19, 2012 3:26PM

Sixteen Names: Who Were the Victims in Kandahar?

Rate: 13 Flag

For days, he was nameless. Staff Sargent X. 

Without a name, he was an abstraction:  A rogue U.S. soldier who walked out of his base in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, March 11 and, it is alleged, systematically gunned down 16 Afghan civilians, the majority of them women and small children. Then he returned to base and turned himself in. 

As he was shuttled from Kandahar to Kuwait and then back to America, as we collectively decided out misadventures in Afghanistan were over (and were just as quickly overruled), little details of this man's life began to leak out. He was a husband and father. He was based out of the problem-child Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Washington state. Served three tours in Iraq. He may have suffered a traumatic brain injury. The consensus of unnamed sources was that he simply "snapped," perhaps after a night of drinking.

Then, Friday, after he had arrived at the prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, his name appeared: Staff Sargent Robert Bales.  

A happy warrior who enlisted within weeks of 9/11. A man with a "sunny" disposition. A great father and husband, with a wife who kept a blog about their "family adventures." A minor history of brushes with the law. Money problems. Angry at being passed over for promotion. Really angry at being sent to Afghanistan rather than, say, Germany or Hawaii.  An incomplete picture that doesn't explain why he would do what he is alleged to have done, but a picture nonetheless.

His alleged victims, meanwhile, haven't even had the dignity of names. They were just "the 16 civilians," an amorphous group of dead Afghans.

Even in Afghanistan, they have been less important as victims of a horrific mass slaughter than as a political tool in the ongoing internal and external battles for control of the war-torn nation. 

But these were people -- children, for the most part -- and they did have names. 

Masooma, Farida, Palwasha, Nabia, Esmatullah -- the daughters of Mohamed Wazir. Faizullah, his son. Mohamed Dawood, son of Abdullah. Khudayad, son of Mohamed Juma. Nazar Mohamed. Payendo. Robeena. Shatarina, the daughter of Sultan Mohamed. Zahra, the daughter of Abdul Hamid. Nazia, the daughter of Dost Mohamed. Essa Mohamed, the son of Mohamed Hussain. Akhtar Mohamed, the son of Murrad Ali. Nine of them under the age of 12. All dead.

Wounded, but alive: Haji Mohamed Naim, son of Haji Sakhawat. Mohamed Sediq, the son of Mohamed Naim. Parween. Rafiullah. Zardana. Zulheja. 

The children lived out their entire lives under the shadow of war. So, for that matter, did most of the adults.  Their villages, Alkozai, Najeeban and a little settlement called "Ibrahim Khan Houses" by locals, were in Panjawi district of Kandahar Province. Families there mostly grow grapes and try not to get in between the running battles between the Taliban and ISAF. At least one of the families caught up in the tragedy had just returned to the area because the presence of the base seemed to offer some safety. 

They met their end, it would seem, at the hand of a man "we sent to protect them," writes Marine Benjamin Busch. "This man, an American, was able to seek them in their sleep, shoot and stab them, and burn them in their blankets. Children the age of his own." 

Justice for Robert Bales will take whatever form it will take. This event won't be the end of the war and these civilians won't be the last to die. But beyond the personal tragedy of one American family, beyond the possible geopolitical ramifications of this one event, we need to remember there were 16 human beings with faces and memories and hobbies, and even hopes and dreams. People with names. They should not be forgotten. 


My profund thanks to Al Jazeera reporter Mujib Mashal, who compiled this list and was kind enough to share it with us. He  first published it today on the Al Jazeera web site. Please follow Mujib on Twitter.   

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Thank you. I'd like to know more about them. One liked to knit. One liked to cook with hot peppers. One laughed every day. Thank you for this small beginning.
You put names to a horror. Thank you for remembering these innocents.

A necessary piece. These people deserve to be remembered. It takes a particular kind of coward to kill women and children -- anyone who defends his actions in the name of patriotism really needs to give their head a shake.
My son just finished a tour in Afghanistan. He is with Special Forces and a lot of his work was with the children in the area where he was stationed in a forward operating base. In every single picture he posted while working with these children he has his side arm. Every single one. The threat is constant and can come from anywhere. I personally don't know how I would cope living in such an environment. Yes, this is a tragedy but my sympathies lie with the warrior.
I do not have words to explain how I feel right now. Thank you.
Such a senseless tragedy. I feel for the victims as well as the soldier. War is ugly and awful to everyone unlucky enough to be touched by it. Thanks for remembering those most innocent.
I came back after commenting earlier.

I don't know if balance is alone what this piece. I was guilty of the same mindless campaign that the original journalist from AJ mentioned. And I hate that I missed this point as well because I come from the other side of the world. To like this post is to not take my support from the men and women who put their lives in harms way for a better world, but to admit that this isn't collateral damage. This was a 'warrior' who just 'snapped'. How long can we keep categorizing 'warriors' and 'victims' as accidents instead of realizing while war seems inevitable, it puts a lot of pressure on people. And they start reacting , in stead of responding. There needs to be a clear plan ahead before collateral damage segues into massacre.
Azfar, thanks for your contribution. This soldier did snap. The military put him under tremendous pressure and while some soldiers are fine in these circumstances we as humans are not supposed to be put under such horrific pressure time and time again. What he did was obviously vile but, I have a kernel of sympathy for him that I would not have for say my brother or a friend not put under this duress.
There is an article at http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/03/21/from-my-lai-to-kandahar/ which recalls how these things happen in a war situation since war indoctrinates participants in strange and horrifying ways.

To merely put some sort of simplified label on a soldier's actions as "snapped" really does little to wash away the behavior of somebody turned into an obvious monster. Whether the responsibility for this frightful change in a human being lies within the individual or in the situation or in those in higher government positions determining policy I cannot say. Whoever is nailed for this, and I have deep suspicions that no one will be, it seemingly will have little effect on the motivations and agendas of those in charge.

If this man is punished for his actions by caging him in a restricted and frightful environment for a period of, perhaps, years, it will do nothing to satisfy the aggrieved survivors nor prevent this action's repetition in the area or make a better person of the soldier.

If anything worthwhile occurs it will be in the matter of getting the military out of the country a bit faster where it can do no further harm but there are other matters which probably will be more forceful in attaining or frustrating that end.
Getting the military out of the country will be for our and the military's sake but, it will leave many Afgans (especially women) to a heinous death at those that we displaced and will soon fill our void.

When we left Vietnam millions died as a result of betting on the wrong team. When we give an experation date, we confirm the end result and doomed many to "Dead (Wo)Man Walking" status. Truly a crime against humanity.
I realized by reading this that I have forgotten more names of the dead than I know of the living. I suspect this is true for many. Do you remember the names of the victims of the Fort Hood Shooting? Of the Georgian citizens who died under the oppresive Russian invasion?

Do we remember the names of the 11,000 men who died in rotting Brittish prison ships in New York harbor or even a handful of the names of people who died on 9/11?

I have never understood this dignity of names thing to be honest. Our minds are not good a memorizing the dead that are not our own. We're not wired for it unless it's driven in over and over or the people were highly famous to begin with.

Furthermore a name tells you nothing, even an Arabic one that gives you quite a bit of raw data if you get the whole thing.

It would be better to remember the crime itself, the dimensions of it and the reality of it. It would be better to devote as much time as possible on working towards a realistic solution in preventing such tragic horror in the first place.

Responsible doctors and leaders making better assements of individual stressors and mental status. Limiting the number of times a Soldier can be deployed, not occupying a nation for 10+ years in a half-assed clusterscrew run by corrupt politicians, giant corporations, ass kissing generals and an Army trained to kill and ordered to magically whip up peace and understanding in a culture that has become desensitized to the thousands of innocents killed by the Taliban but is outraged at the innocents murdered by one American....and even then, not as outraged as they were over the burning of their holy book.

I understand and appreciate what you are trying to do. It is good for people to remember the names of the dead for those who feel it is important. It provides emotional balance the way Jesus keeps my friend John from beating people to death.

Just not my cup of tea. The faces are bad enough.
Thanks, everyone, for your comments and thoughts.

As an update, Robert Bales has just been formally charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and the attempted murder of six others. Military sources told the Washington Post that forensic evidence was found indicating a 17th victim.

Thanks, everyone, for your comments and thoughts.

As an update, Robert Bales has just been formally charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and the attempted murder of six others. Military sources told the Washington Post that forensic evidence was found indicating a 17th victim.