U.S. soldier charged with killing 16 Afghans appears in court

Mon Nov 5, 2012 2:55pm EST
 

(Note strong language in the 11th paragraph)

By Bill Rigby

TACOMA, Washington (Reuters) - A U.S. Army soldier charged with killing 16 Afghan civilians in a drunken rampage in March sat quietly in a military courtroom on Monday as prosecutors outlined their case, accusing him of two murderous forays from his barracks into nearby villages.

Prosecutor Jay Morse said he would present evidence proving "chilling premeditation" on the part of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a decorated veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who is accused of the mass killings.

The shootings of mostly women and children in Afghanistan's Kandahar province marked the worst civilian slaughter by U.S. forces since the Vietnam War and eroded already strained U.S.-Afghan ties after over a decade of conflict in the country.

Bales faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder, as well as charges of assault and wrongfully possessing and using steroids and alcohol while deployed. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

The hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state is expected to last two weeks and include witness testimony in Afghanistan carried by live video, including villagers and Afghan soldiers.

At the end, military commanders will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to refer the case for trial by court-martial.

Bales, dressed in camouflage Army fatigues, his head shaven, embraced his wife in court before the hearing began. He then sat silently watching the proceedings from the defense table as Morse summarized the prosecution's account of the events of March 11.   Continued...

 
This photograph of a courtroom sketch by artist Lois Silver shows U.S. Army soldier Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, (2nd R) and his defense attorneys Emma Scanlan (2nd L) and Maj. Gregory Malson (L) at the start of the military Article-32 Investigation, a U.S. Courts Martial pre-trial proceeding, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante