Preliminary hearing to end in US soldier’s case
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) — Attorneys will wrap up a preliminary hearing against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who is accused of massacring 16 Afghan villagers during a pre-dawn rampage earlier this year.
Closing arguments from Army prosecutors and Bales’ attorneys will be made today. In the coming weeks, the investigating officer, Col. Lee Deneke, will decide whether to recommend court-martial, with the ultimate decision to be made by the three-star general at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Robert Brown. Bales, a 39-year-old father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., could face the death penalty.
If a court-martial takes place, it will be held at the Washington state base south of Seattle.
Prosecutors say Bales slipped away from his base in Afghanistan to attack two villages in Kandahar province, killing 16 civilians, including nine children. The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.
Three sessions of nighttime testimony in Bales’ preliminary Article 32 hearing, scheduled to accommodate witnesses participating by video link from Afghanistan, concluded late Sunday. The witnesses included a 7-year-old girl, who described how she hid behind her father when a gunman came to their village that night, how the stranger fired, and how her father died, cursing in pain and anger.
Earlier, the lead prosecutor, Lt. Col. Jay Morse, said on the night of the killings Bales watched a movie about a former CIA agent on a revenge killing spree, with two fellow soldiers, while drinking contraband whiskey. Morse said Bales first attacked one village, Alkozai; returned to the base at Camp Belambay, then headed out again to attack a second village, Najiban. Bales returned to the base covered in blood, Morse said, and his incriminating statements indicate he was “deliberate and methodical.”
Bales has not entered a plea and was not expected to testify at the preliminary hearing. His attorneys have not discussed the evidence, but say he has post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered a concussive head injury while serving in Iraq.