Preliminary hearing ends in Afghan massacre case
BY RACHEL LA CORTE Associated Press
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
11/14/12 at 3:02 AM
Army prosecutors on Tuesday asked an investigative officer to recommend a death penalty court-martial for an Army staff sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a predawn rampage, saying that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales committed "heinous and despicable crimes."
Prosecutors made their closing arguments after a week of testimony in the preliminary hearing, known as an Article 32. Prosecutors say Bales, 39, slipped away from his remote base at Camp Belambay to attack two villages early on March 11. Among the dead were 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.
Several soldiers testified that Bales returned to the base alone just before dawn, covered in blood, and that he made incriminating statements such as, "I thought I was doing the right thing."
The investigating officer said Tuesday that he would have a written recommendation by the end of the week, but that is just the start of the process. That recommendation goes next to the brigade command, and the ultimate decision would be made by the three-star general on the base. There's no clear sense of how long that could take before a decision is reached on whether to proceed to court-martial.
If a court-martial takes place, it will be held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the Washington state base south of Seattle, and witnesses will be flown in from Afghanistan.
Bales, an Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder. Bales did not testify during the preliminary hearing, which began Nov. 5.
Defense attorney Emma Scanlan raised the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injury, noting that Bales had received a screening at the traumatic brain injury clinic at Madigan Army Medical Center during a period of time that the center is under investigation for reversing hundreds of PTSD diagnoses of soldiers since 2007.
Last week, 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."
Original Print Headline: Preliminary hearing on Afghan massacre ends
In this detail from a courtroom sketch, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is shown Tuesday on the final day of a preliminary hearing. He is accused of premeditated murder and attempted murder for an attack on two villages in Afghanistan. LOIS SILVER/Associated Press