McConnelsville Colonel Responds To Afghan Civilian Massacre< < Back to
The case of the U.S. soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians has everybody wondering – what in the world was going through his head?
Why did Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales do what he's accused of doing?
For some answers, WOUB News turned to Colonel Rick Welch of McConnelsville.
Welch is retired from the U.S Army Reserve and a former Morgan County prosecutor.
He served in Iraq for more than six years.
"I just went up to an area…in the Northern part of the Baghdad province," Welch says. "And a key tribal leader there just spent 11 months in an Iraqi prison because he was mistaken for someone who was working with Al Qaeda. So it was a case of mistake in identity but it took 11 months to get him freed from prison. So we had a gathering up there with the rest of his tribe and other neighboring tribes and had celebration of him coming back."
The big question now, says Colonel Welch — how to prevent another incident from happening.
"How did that soldier get off base by himself with this weapon?," the Colonel questions. "How did he even get out of the base by himself and go on challenge to get into the village in the first place? He seemed to have the presence of mind to make it back to the base and turn himself in rather than be caught in the Afghan village by the Afghan authorities. So I'm a little suspicious about his presence of mind to make it back to safe haven."
Colonel Welch was in Iraq until last December, leading several national reconcilation initiatives, working with the U.S. Embassy and the Government of Iraq.
He says it's important to look at the big picture in Afghanistan.
"As bad as the atrocities are when they happen, just like Milay and Vietnam when they lined up 400 people and executed them, the real issue for American credibility is: what happens after that?," Welch says. "We tell people we have a justice system and that they will be prosecuted in our justice system. And we treat people fairly but sometimes the result turns out for real atrocities that the soldiers don't get punished the way that the Iraqis or the Afghans think that they should because they don't really understand our system. They never had a system like that. So when the end result seems light for such a tragedy then this really reflects on American credibility."
Welch says this "immunity issue" caught American leaders by surprise in Iraq when the government there refused to extend a security agreement with the U.S.
"You know that they don’t trust us when we say we will take care of people who are bad actors in our group," the Colonel says. "They just don't believe that our justice system delivers what the penalty should be for some authorities. So I think we have to find a way to convey that. I mean, I'm not for returning our soldiers over to local authorities. They have to be protected in that regard but they need to be tried and the case investigated and do process equal protection. But conveying that in a way that people understand it in other cultures is very challenging for us and, I think, presented us a real problem in Iraq and as one reason why the Iraqi government couldn't master enough votes to continue the American presence. That's one of them, that's not the only reason."