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Glenn Greenwald: When Killer is One of Us, We Find Excuses

In this Aug. 23, 2011 Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System photo, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division participates in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.  (Credit: AP Photo/DVIDS, Spc. Ryan Hallock)

In this Aug. 23, 2011 Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System photo, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division participates in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. (Credit: AP Photo/DVIDS, Spc. Ryan Hallock)

Discussing the motives of the Afghan shooter


Here’s a summary of the Western media discussion of what motivated U.S. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales on March 11 to allegedly kill 16 Afghans, including nine children:

† He was drunk.

† He was experiencing financial stress.

† He was passed over for a promotion.

† He had a traumatic brain injury.

† He had marital problems.

† He suffered from the stresses of four tours of duty.

† He saw his buddy’s leg blown off the day before the massacre.

Et cetera.

Here’s a summary of the Western media discussion of what motivates Muslims to kill Americans: they are primitive, fanatically religious, hateful Terrorists.

Even when Muslims who engage in such acts toward Americans clearlyand repeatedly explain that they did it in response to American acts of domination, aggression, violence and civilian-killing in their countries, and even when the violence is confined to soldiers who are part of a foreign army that has invaded and occupied their country, the only cognizable motive is one of primitive, hateful evil. It is an act of Evil Terrorism, and that is all there is to say about it.

Note, too, that in the case of Sgt. Bales (or any other cases of American violence against Muslims), people have little difficulty understanding the distinction between (a) discussing and trying to understand the underlying motives of the act (causation) and (b) defending the act (justification). But that same distinction completely evaporates when it comes to Muslim violence against Americans. Those who attempt to understand or explain the act — they’re responding to American violence in their country; they are traumatized and angry at the continuous deaths of Muslim children and innocent adults; they’ve calculated that striking at Americans is the ony way to deter further American aggression in their part of the world — are immediately accused of mitigating, justifying or even defending Terrorism.

There is, quite obviously, a desperate need to believe that when an American engages in acts of violence of this type (meaning: as a deviation from formal American policy), there must be some underlying mental or emotional cause that makes it sensible, something other than an act of pure hatred or Evil. When a Muslim engages in acts of violence against Americans, there is an equally desperate need to believe the opposite: that this is yet another manifestation of inscrutable hatred and Evil, and any discussion of any other causes must be prohibited and ignored.

* * * * *

I’ll be speaking at several events over the next few weeks. For now, I’ll note two: (1) this Thursday, March 22, in Philadelphia, I’ll be speaking at the University of Pennsylvania, at 5:00 pm, on “Endless War and the Erosion of Civil Liberties in the Age of Terrorism”; it is free and open the public, and event information is here(2) on Thursday, April 12, in Ottawa, Canada, at 7:00 pm, I’ll be speaking at an event coordinated by long-time commenter Bill Owen, and in attendance will be the heroicMaher Arar; ticket and event information is here. Over the next few weeks, I’ll also be speaking in Seattle, Chicago and Washington, D.C. and will post details as those dates approach. Finally, this Friday night, I’ll be on Real Time with Bill Maher.


UPDATE: From today’s issue of Reader’s Express, the Washington Post‘s publication for Metro riders:

Can you even imagine what would happen to someone who wrote or published an article like this about a Muslim killer of Americans?


UPDATE II: I have an Op-Ed in The Guardian today about the removal by the U.S. military of the accused shooter from Afghanistan.

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  • khushboo

    Exactly Hatethehaterz! Enough said. sheesh..

  • Hatethehaterz

    Thanks Ilisha! And nice article, Amago.

  • Hatethehaterz

    @Relief : Hit submit too soon. I don’t know about PTSD, but Nidal’s actions and behavior seem more consistent with schizophrenia. Those “soldier of Allah” business cards also seem more indicative of mental illness than religious motivation. I’ve never known any Muslims to carry such paraphernalia. Nor have I ever met anyone who refers to themselves as a “soldier of Allah.” However I did come across a few manic and schizophrenic patients during psych rotations in med school who called themselves “soldiers of God.”

    Also, I don’t think Khushboo was saying that Nidal committed his acts because he was judged harshly. I believe she was saying that Nidal was judged harshly by the media and most non-Muslims (after he did the killings) because he was Muslim. By contrast everyone has been very sympathetic and dare I say, understanding of Bales. Bales was clearly viewed as a case of mental illness by many in the media as well as a large part of the public. Yet Nidal was “just another terrorist,” right? Do you see the double standard?

  • Hatethehaterz

    @ Relief: Big difference between what Nidal did and what Bales did. Nidal killed fellow soldiers who were about to be deployed to kill others. Bales murdered innocent men, women, and children who were civilians. What Nidal did was wrong, but what Bales did was far worse.

    And why do you keep bringing up allegations that Nidal had some weird business cards? Many sources have stated that Nidal was mentally ill. By many accounts he wasn’t the most religious or practicing Muslim as he used to frequent strip clubs and drink alcohol. Yet you seem to imply the same anti-Islam narrative that comes out of most Islamophobes. That any and all crimes that Muslims commit are because of their religion. Even when said crimes go AGAINST the faith. Even when the perpetrator does not live by Islamic standards and routinely commits major sins such as adultery and drinking alcohol. Why is it that you feel Bales is mentally ill yet Nidal was motivated only by Islam as opposed to mental illness? Mental illness seems to be a factor in both cases to me. Why can’t criminals who happen to have Islamic backgrounds ever be motivated by anything other than their faith in the eyes of the bigots? Muslims are human beings like anyone else. We also suffer from issues like greed, mental illness, etc. Just like anyone else. We have our fair share of criminals just like any other group of people.

    Crime is not related to race, religion, or ethnicity. People don’t commit crimes because of Islam or being Muslim. They commit crimes DESPITE Islam and being Muslims. Besides some people (Muslims included) just aren’t very religeous.

    And no one here is defending or condoning what Nidal did. If you think that then keep in mind your own posts can be considered sympathetic and defensive of Bales’ murders.

  • relief

    O my gosh, he was judged harshly? Then no wonder he murdered 13 people. I can just imagined the horror of being judged harshly while he was promoted through the ranks, while he gave his power point presentation justifying jihad, and while he had his soldier of allah cards printed and on and on. Poor lamb. The media found all sorts of excuses for him, PTSD being the most egregious and disgusting. I’m not excusing Bales, but he certainly has more reason to be thought to have PTSD because he was in combat during four tours and suffered a head wound. We’re certainly bombarded with any excuse but jihad every time a jihadi murders someone or tries to. We’re told it’s poverty or mental illness, anything but islamic exhortations to jihad.

    So why are you defending Nidal? Because his jihad was justified because he was judged harshly? What a joke.

    You blind yourself to reason when you say things like Automatically people judged him harshly just because he’s a Muslim. Really? It had nothing to do with 13 murders, the shouting of allah akbar during those murders, the soldier of allah identification, the many comments to others justifying jihad?

  • fox news

    OK. So Osama bin Laden had PTSD.

  • khushboo

    Relief, the difference is Nidal was bullied by other soldiers and was considered a terrorist because he was so-called linked to Al Qaeda, of which there was no proof. Automatically people judged him harshly just because he’s a Muslim. Whereas the media seems more sympathetic towards Bales finding excuses for him killing CHILDREN saying “he wasn’t promoted” “he fell on his head” “he doesn’t remember” “he was drunk””he saw his friend get shot” blah blah blah. Why aren’t they calling him a terrorist for shooting 16 CIVILIANS?! That’s the difference!

  • Relief

    I don’t see any significant difference in the way this is being handled than the way the jihad murders of Nidal Malik Hasan are being handled. He was delared to be suffering from PTSD wasn’t he? Even though he shouted Allah Akubar as he murdered 13 innocent people and wounded a lot of others and had been using business cards that identified him as a soldier of Allah and the Power Point presentations and even though he had never seen combat. He was protected from ciriticism so as not to offend Muslims and “endanger diversity”.

    Also, I ask if Hasan’s murders and violence were as “American as apple pie” as someone here put it about these murders.

  • JD

    Robert Bales, Afghanistan Shootings Suspect, Not Likely To Face Death Penalty

    WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the death penalty is possible if a U.S. military court finds an Army staff sergeant guilty of gunning down Afghan children and family members. But it isn’t likely.

    History shows that the U.S. military system is slow to convict Americans, particularly service members, of alleged war crimes. And when a punishment is imposed, it can range anywhere from life in prison all the way down to house arrest. Other factors can seem to play more of a role than the crime itself.

    In the case of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the suspect in the March 11 Kandahar shootings, legal experts say the 38-year-old married father of two young children could face a lengthy prison sentence if convicted of the crime, which has threatened U.S.-Afghan relations. But on his fourth combat tour and with a head injury on his record – the sergeant remembers little about that night, Bales’ lawyer says – he might well be shown some leniency by the military jury, even if convicted.

    “Political pressure is going to drive the push for the death penalty. Doesn’t mean they’re going to get it,” said Charles Gittins, a Virginia-based defense attorney who represents service members and has handled capital cases.

    Of the long list of alleged U.S. atrocities – from prison massacres in World War II to the slaughter of civilians at My Lai in Vietnam – relatively few high-profile war crimes believed to involve Americans in the past century have resulted in convictions, let alone the death penalty.

    In the case of My Lai, President Richard Nixon reduced the only prison sentence given to three years of house arrest. In the 2005 Haditha shooting of Iraqi civilians, eight Marines were charged but plea deals and promises of immunity in exchange for testimony meant no prison sentences.

  • Isa

    I’m tired of all the excuses many of us Americans make for our soldiers who commit inexcusable atrocities against innocent people who are already suffering under illegal American occupation. People were saying the same thing when the torture chamber at Abu Ghraib was revealed. “Oh, they may have been pushed to the limit.”, “They were worked too hard”, “They experienced culture shock, being so far away from home”, etc.

  • Aspie and Atheist

    It is a timeless national truth- Violence is as American as Applie Pie.

  • Aspie and Atheist

    It is appalling, how the second article above portrays the butcherer in a positive light by showing him happily smiling.

  • Aspie and Atheist

    This soldier’s actions are unexcusable.

    It is a horrific shame and tragedy that the American media rushes to defend him.

    There are no “conflicting opinions” on this, at least ones that are valid. There is only FACT. And the fact is that this soldier, brutally and in cold blood murdered 16 Afghan civilians. There are no other viewpoints to it. None. Zip. Nada.

  • Grouchy

    Argh! Come to Toronto, darnit!

  • Pamela

    As a Vet and a Muslim I am appalled. He does not have a good excuse for what he did.

  • Truth Hurts

    Killing CHILDREN is evil, end of, no apologetics please.

    If he was mentally unstable, then it is the culpability of the system that ENABLED him e.g. medical professionals & leadership.

    Temporary insanity = “get out of jail free card” that absolves the chain of command & is abused by slippery snakes.

    REPEAT – Killing CHILDREN is evil, no excuses.

  • crow

    That’s the same as the used to say about Native Americans, they’re primitive, stone age dwellers, savages, animals, whose cultured teach them to kill brutally, while we WAY more advanced eupopeans rape and kill, and steal and take away their children to be raised as civilized ” Christians” ( no matter that Christianity is alien yo North America. The West has always been like that well kill you and take what we want, but if you resist hours evil. Want to bet this asshole gets a slap on the wrist and then is allowed to ho back to his life? It happened with the scum that did Haditha

  • mindy1

    @Mrislamanswers back OK

  • MrIslamAnswersBack

    @Mindy that was not the point. The point was, no one tries to understand or make excuses for why a Muslims does such things.Instead the Muslim is just evil and motivated by the “evil teachings of Islam” and that is it.No excuses , no one cares if he had martial problems, saw his Muslim buddies leg blown off, saw children killed by occupation forces. No, none of that. That is the point Mindy.There is no attempt to understand why a Muslim acts in such a way.

  • H. Torrance Griffin

    Psych defense would mean, to me, him leaving a mental hospital feet first rather than him dying at Fort Leavenworth. But then I am one of those who figure that a by-the-book UCMJ Court Martial needs to take place _IN_ Khandahar, _WITH_ Afghans watching/testifying, and _WITH_ the transcripts (both original and translations) released to the public domain _INSTANTLY_.

    (Failure to stick him in a local stockade rather than flying him to CONUS was idiocy, but that goes without saying)

    An excuse is civilians in the crossfire/blast radius, bad information on a target, even poor fire dicipline during combat conditions. This is flat-out murder, and failure to treat it as such undercuts a mission I admit I consider no more inherently objectionable than the U.S. bases in Germany.

  • mindy1

    Actually, of all those excuses the brain damage one might be legit-that being said, after being hurt he probably should have been discharged, as those types of injuries actually can cause problems with temperment, and putting someone like that in combat can be volatile. NOT excusing what he did, not justifying it, just trying to wonder what makes a normal person do that kind of thing 🙁

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