June 19, 2015

Dear Secretary McHugh,

We write to draw your attention to an important document regarding SSgt. Robert Bales’ crimes in Kandahar province that has been concealed despite his conviction and the historic significance of the atrocities he committed. These obstacles are troubling to Military Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, and Northwestern University’s National Security Journalism Initiative. The gravity of Bales’ crimes argues for transparency in all aspects of his case. We ask you for your assistance in declassifying an Army regulation 15-6 investigation into Bales’ killings before your tenure as Army Secretary ends.

Since Bales’ was sentenced to life in prison in August 2013, three news organizations from the Puget Sound region near JB Lewis-McChord have submitted multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for an Army Regulation 15-6 investigation commissioned to look into whether anything could have been done to prevent Bales’ massacre in March 2012.

The News Tribune of Tacoma, The Seattle Times and NPR Seattle affiliate KUOW have had their FOIA requests denied and their appeals delayed. Normally, investigative documents used during courts-martial may be released through FOIA following the resolution of a case. That has not happened with the Bales 15-6.

U.S. Central Command rejected The News Tribune’s first request for the Bales 15-6 in January 2014. The reasons listed by Central Command included:

  • JBLM’s I Corps headquarters had not yet considered Bales’ clemency
  • Releasing the 15-6 could jeopardize ongoing operations for frequently deployed
  • Releasing the 15-6 could obstruct a law enforcement
  • Releasing the 15-6 could impair Bales’ rights to a fair and impartial

The News Tribune filed an appeal to this denial. CENTCOM has not yet considered it. CENTCOM has confirmed that The News Tribune’s appeal is No. 235 in line for further consideration, but has repeated the reasoning it offered to The News Tribune in denying FOIA requests from The Seattle Times and KUOW.

In the 17 months that have passed since CENTCOM’s denial, facts have changed that warrant an immediate reconsideration of CENTCOM’s withholding of the Bales 15-6.

  • I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza has denied Bales’ clemency request and upheld his sentence.
  • S. forces are no longer stationed at combat outposts near where Bales committed his massacre, according to open-source news reports published by the Army. Moreover, testimony at Bales’ court-martial revealed how he twice walked out of his outpost to kill civilians. Releasing more information about that aspect of this incident could do no more harm to U.S. forces than has already been done.
  • Bales has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison. There is no pending law enforcement investigation that could be influenced by the release of the 15-6.
  • The FOIA exemption that protects a defendant’s right to a fair and impartial hearing is intended to ensure that military juries are unbiased. Bales is past the point when a jury may consider evidence in his case. His fate now rests solely with military appeals

Marine Corps Gen. John Allen commissioned the report just after the massacre. He discussed it in press interviews from Kabul, assuring the public the military would do everything it could to learn from Bales’ killings.

“I will be satisfied when I get the report that we have looked closely at the potential contributing factors that might have permitted this event to have unfolded tragically,” Allen told reporters in March 2012, two weeks after the killings.

Bales committed a terrible crime and is serving his sentence. The public and the press still deserve the answers to the questions Allen aired when he announced the 15-6.


Amy McCullough, MRE President           Isaac Cubillos, MRE Vice President

News Editor, Air Force Magazine                  Editor, Military Media Group

Otto Kreisher, MRE Treasurer                 Bryan Bender, MRE Board member

Freelance Reporter                                                Defense Editor, Politico

Kristina Wong, MRE Board member       Dan Lamothe, MRE Board member

Defense Reporter, The Hill                                   National Security Reporter, The Washington Post

Alex Quade, MRE Board member             Greg Mathieson, MRE Board member
Freelance War Reporter                                       MAI Photo News Agency, Inc.

Jenn Rowell, MRE Board member           John Grady, MRE Board member

Military Reporter, Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune           Freelance National Security Reporter

Ellen Shearer, Co-Director National Security Journalism Initiative

Professor, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism

Dana Neuts, SPJ President             Paul Fletcher, SPJ President-Elect

Freelance Journalist                                  Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Karen Peterson, Executive Editor             Kathy Best, Editor

The News Tribune                                              The Seattle Times

Patricia Murphy, Military/Veterans Reporter