A decorated American soldier who shot dead 16 Afghan civilians in a night-time rampage has described for the first time how stress, rage and steroids put him on “autopilot” during the murder spree
In all Robert Bales shot 22 people during pre-dawn raids on two villages in Kandahar Province in March 2012.
Nine of the 16 he killed were children.
The killings were the worst massacre carried out by a rogue American soldier since the Vietnam War and further eroded strained US-Afghan relations after a decade of conflict.
Speaking to GQ magazine from US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he said his spree was sparked by anger at men he believed were working with the Taliban, accusing them of putting their wives and children at risk.
“I was so angry at these guys for putting their families in harm's way like that,” he said. “So I blamed them, but I took it out on [the women and children]. I was just raging.”
Military officials said he had been drinking before creeping away from base in the Panjwayi district of southern Kandahar, armed with a pistol, a rifle and a grenade launcher.
Witnesses said he opened fire on sleeping families before burning some of dead bodies.
At one point he returned to tell a fellow soldier, “I just shot up some people.”
In the interview he said he been suffering from stress, non-stop anger – caused by guilt at failing to prevent an attack that maimed a friend when Bales was on sentry duty - and was using steroids, when he went into “autopilot” and launched his murderous raid.
He said he thinks about his actions again and again.
“I can't take it back,” he said. “If I could, I would. Not just because I'm gonna be in prison for the rest of my life. Because of the cost. No conscious person wants war. No conscious person wants to kill people.”
But he also said he feels he let down his fellow troops.
“I want to say to those guys that I hurt—my guys, the patriot brotherhood—I want them to know I'm sorry,” he said. “I don't want nothing but good things for my soldiers. I hope that in some way they can understand how sorry I am. They're my family, and I love them.”
He also tried to distance himself from other American mass shooters such as James Holmes, who murdered 12 people at midnight screening of Batman film The Dark Knight Rises.
“It wasn't like I was looking to go into a school and open up on a bunch of kids,” he said.
“That doesn't make it right. I'm not trying to make it right. I can't make it right. The difference between a soldier and a thug is authority, and I didn't have authority. But it's not the same as walking into a movie theatre and opening up on a bunch of people in a Batman movie.”
He was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.