independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Army seeks massacre death penalty

Staff Sgt Robert Bales is accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers (AP/DVIDS, Spc Ryan Hallock)

The US Army is to seek the death penalty against the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a pre-dawn rampage.

The announcement followed a pre-trial hearing last month for Staff Sgt Robert Bales, 39, who faces premeditated murder and other charges over the attack on two villages in southern Afghanistan in March.

The killings drew such angry protests that the US temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.

Prosecutors said Bales left his remote southern Afghanistan base early on March 11, attacked one village and returned to the base, then slipped away again to attack another nearby compound. Of the 16 people killed, nine were children.

No date has been set for Bales' court-martial, which will be held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, Washington.

His civilian lawyer, John Browne, said he met army officials last week to argue that his client should not face the possibility of the death penalty, given that Bales was on his fourth deployment in a war zone when the killings occurred.

"The army is not taking responsibility for Sgt Bales and other soldiers that the army knowingly sends into combat situations with diagnosed PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), concussive head injuries and other injuries," Mr Browne said. "The army is trying to take the focus off the failure of its decisions and the failure of the war itself, and making Sgt Bales out to be a rogue soldier."

Bales' wife Kari said in a statement that she and their children had been enjoying their weekend visits with Bales at the base and she hoped he received an impartial trial. "I no longer know if a fair trial for Bob is possible, but it very much is my hope, and I will have faith," she said.

Bales' defence team has said the government's case is incomplete and outside experts have said a key issue going forward will be to determine if he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

For Bales to face execution, the court-martial jury must unanimously find him guilty of premeditated murder. They must also determine that at least one aggravating factor applies, such as multiple or child victims, and that the aggravating factor substantially outweighs any extenuating or mitigating circumstances.

Press Association

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