U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is depicted in a sketch at a preliminary… (Lois Silber / Associated…)
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales told his fellow soldiers they would be grateful to him in fighting season “come June” following a shooting rampage in which he is accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians.
“He said, ‘You guys are going to thank me, come June,’” Sgt. 1st Class James Stillwell testified at the second day of Bales’ preliminary hearing in a military courtroom south of Seattle.
By June, he said, he had assumed Bales was referring to the onset of warm weather in Afghanistan, which normally marks the resumption of heavy-duty fighting after a winter lull.
Soldiers who served with Bales at the remote special operations camp southwest of Kandahar described a series of disjointed remarks — sometimes apologetic, on one occasion joking — Bales made as he waited under guard for a helicopter to transport him out of the camp.
Taken together, they seem to suggest that Bales regarded his alleged attacks as something done to the benefit of fellow troops.
Sitting under guard in the camp’s medical unit, Bales mentioned an earlier incident in Najiban, one of the two villages where the shootings occurred, in which U.S. troops were pinned down for up to half an hour by an insurgent’s PKM machine gun.
Though aerial surveillance pinpointed the location of the gunner, a decision was made not to drop a bomb on the site because of possible injury to civilians. “He said basically, 'Your team leader was weak,'” Sgt. 1st Class Derek King said Bales told him.
“He said, ‘Remember that [expletive] PKM? That’s not going to happen again,’” Bales said, according to Sgt. Ross O’Rourke, who was sitting with King.
Earlier, the two men said, they had been chatting about football, and Bales had joined in, offering up some statistics. But the conversation cooled when King, talking outside the room to one of Bales’ friends, Cpl. David Godwin, learned the true scope of what Bales had allegedly done.
Godwin, he said, was “kind of teary-eyed” when he approached King.
"'Hey, there’s reports coming down there was women and children involved,'" King said Godwin told him. “'Don’t be cool with this guy. Don’t talk to him.’ He was shaking.”
After that, King and O’Rourke said they didn’t want to talk to Bales about football any longer, and the comment about the Najiban incident seemed to come, O’Rourke said, out of the blue.
“We somewhat quit talking to him, and there was a little break in communication. That’s when he kind of spoke up, made those comments,” he said.
King said Bales also abruptly remarked at one point: “I guess four was too much.” King didn’t offer an explanation, but evidence suggests that four housing compounds were struck during the five-hour attack last March.
O’Rourke said he witnessed Bales bidding good-bye to Godwin and another friend, Sgt. Jason McLaughlin.
“Sgt. Bales had been approached by them,” O'Rourke said. “He’d given them like a hug, handshake type thing. He asked both of them to take care of his boys. He said, ‘I thought I was doing the right thing.’”