From everyday Afghans to the Taliban insurgency to the highest elected officials, accusations that the U.S. covered-up the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians have gone mainstream in Afghanistan. Sometime this week, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is expected to be charged for the killings in a trial held in the United States, but a consensus is building in Afghanistan that any such trial would be a sham since the shooter could not have acted alone in the killings that spanned two villages. Making matters worse, U.S. allies in the Afghan government are fanning the flames of conspiracy.
The worst offender is Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who went rogue this weekend saying Americans "are demons" and that the massacre was "not the first incident, it was the 100th, the 200th and 500th incident." Validating conspiracy-mongers, he told reporters "In four rooms people were killed, children and women were killed, and then they were all brought together in one room and then put on fire; that one man cannot do." Afghanistan's ambassador Eklil Hakimi was forced to defend the remarks on CNN last night with an explanation that Karzai was merely reflecting the sentiment of his constituents. "Our president is doing what any legitimate president would do. He's reflecting somehow whatever our people are saying," Hakimi said.
On that point, Hakimi is exactly right. Reporting from Kabul, The Guardian's Emma Graham-Harrison speaks with Kate Clark of Afghanistan Analysts Network who says public opinion on this issue is quite clear. "I have encountered almost no Afghan who believes it could have been one person acting alone, whether they think it was a group or people back at the base somehow organizing or facilitating it." Part of the reason is that in Afghanistan, hearsay runs wild as credible sources of news are difficult to come by, including television and newspapers. But the theories aren't confined to the "poor or illiterate," writes Graham-Harrison. Mohammad Baqar Shaikhzada, a former Member of Parliament who preaches at a mosque in Kabul says several gunmen were involved in the incident. "The aim of the US in our country is to kill our people every day, and take our country under their control." The statements by Shaikhzada follow remarks by a Kandahar parliamentarian Mullah Sayed Mohammed Akhund, who told The Wall Street Journal last week that local villagers witnessed more than one solider during the night and Afghan soliders said they heard simultaneous shootings coming from different locations.
In a troubling sign of how the incident has strained U.S.-Afghan relations, it has put Karzai and the Taliban insurgency in lockstep on this issue. Last night, a Taliban commander mimicked Karzai's skepticism telling CNN, "We don't think that one American was involved ... The foreigners and the puppet regime [in Afghanistan] are blind to the truth of what happened here." The commander insisted that the solider be prosecuted in Afghanistan in accordance with Islamic law. "The Afghans should prosecute him."
With formal charges expected later this week, President Obama told the military to prosecute the case aggressively and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated that Bales could face the death penalty.