TOPICS > World

What Do We Know About Kandahar Killings Suspect?

March 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Judy Woodruff and The Washington Post's Craig Whitlock discuss what's known about the U.S. soldier who allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians on Sunday.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on this story and specifically on what is known about the man who allegedly went on this rampage in Afghanistan, we turn to Craig Whitlock. He’s a reporter with The Washington Post.

Craig, thank you for being with us.

Military officials, as we heard, are now saying they have probable cause to hold the suspect. ABC News was reporting late today that he had confessed. Why aren’t they making his name public yet?

CRAIG WHITLOCK, The Washington Post: I think they’re trying to get to the actual bottom of why he did this.

There’s not much question, Judy, of who did this. As you reported, this soldier walked off the base, massacred these villagers, walked back on the base, turned himself in. Leon Panetta said yesterday that he essentially confessed. He said he did it.

I think they’re trying to figure out why he did it. They don’t know if it was some sort of mental scars from his previous deployment. Military officials said they were looking into whether alcohol found on this small military base may have played a role, that they don’t know. In short, they don’t know what led this guy to snap and walk off the base in the middle of the night and gun down and apparently burn 16 Afghans, including most of them women and children.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it’s reported he’s a trained sniper. What more is known about him? You mentioned a possible emotional or mental issue. We know there’s been reports that he was involved — a report that he was involved in a vehicle turnover, a traumatic brain injury as a result of that back in Iraq in 2010.

CRAIG WHITLOCK: That’s right.

As we reported today, he’s had multiple deployments in Iraq. He was there on at least three different occasions, you know, nine- to 12-month tours in Iraq. This was his first one in Afghanistan. He arrived in Afghanistan in December. But in 2010 in Iraq, he was involved in a vehicle rollover. He was treated and diagnosed for a traumatic brain injury.

Now, we don’t know the extent of that injury. We don’t know if it was a concussion, something much worse. It’s a fairly common injury that has been diagnosed in perhaps a couple hundred thousand U.S. troops over the last 10 years. It’s something that Army doctors are just getting their arms around, trying to figure out — somebody may not show any signs of visible injury, but it can come back and manifest itself in different ways later on.

Now, just because somebody suffered an injury like that doesn’t mean they’re apt to walk off a base in the middle of the night and massacre a bunch of Afghans. I think that’s what the Army investigators are really trying to figure out. Was that a contributing factor? Was it these repeated deployments? Was it something else?

I think, at this point, they are still trying to nail that down and perhaps nail down a motive before they file charges and identify this person.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Craig Whitlock, you did some interesting reporting, you had some interesting reporting in The Post today about the place where he is stationed in the United States, Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, and some incidents there.

Can you expand on some of that?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: Yeah, sure.

One problem they have at this military base in Washington state, which is the biggest military installation in the Pacific Northwest, has had many, many troops go to Iraq and Afghanistan — they have had real problems with their medical center there in treating troops on the way home, not only for visible injuries, but for post-traumatic stress, brain injuries, things of that nature.

And a number of critics at the base, veterans groups, anti-war activists, have said that the medical center there has a history of signing off paperwork to say that these soldiers are fit for duty and can ship out again in short periods, without giving a chance for them to fully recuperate.

There’s a number of investigations going on and a couple medical staff have been put on leave. And it looks like there’s been at least a few hundred cases where soldiers were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder initially. Those diagnoses were later downgraded, whether to enable these soldiers to fight again or to reduce health care costs.

Now, again, whether that was a factor in the case of this soldier in Afghanistan near Kandahar on Sunday, we don’t know. But we do know there’s a pattern of these problems at that base.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, again, that was going on at the time that he would have been there in between deployments.

CRAIG WHITLOCK: Exactly.

And that’s — military investigators are really scrutinizing not just what injuries he may have had in his previous deployments, but they want to take a very careful look at whatever doctor would have had to sign off on him being fit to return to duty. What kind of test was he given? How extensive was it? Where there any internal disagreements over that? Did the soldier or his superiors object, saying that he needed to be watched more closely?

And that’s the kind of thing. They’re going back and coming through his medical records, his personnel records, again, to determine whether any of this could have been a factor, whether he was actually fit to return to duty.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And one other thing about Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, Craig Whitlock, and that is that there have been reports — well, incidents of soldiers, Marines — soldiers based there who have gone rogue, in effect.

CRAIG WHITLOCK: That’s right, Judy.

We reported on this extensively last year and the year before. There was another Army unit, a platoon from Lewis-McChord in 2010 that members of that platoon have been convicted of killing three unarmed Afghan civilians. They called themselves a kill team.

And it wasn’t far from where this soldier on Sunday was assigned. Different group, different soldiers. Again, there were reports of why — what were the motives? What would have led these soldiers to do this, over a period of time, hunt down innocent Afghan civilians? They dismembered some of the corpses, kept fingers or body parts.

It turned out the ringleader in that case had also been to Iraq before. His background was heavily scrutinized. But it turned out there was no apparent reason for why he would do this. There was no medical reason. He had no history of substance abuse, no history of brain injury. He just — like you said, he went rogue. And, sometimes, there is no logical explanation for why people do these things.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know that, in this case, the investigation continues.

Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post, thanks very much.