U.S. soldier referred to court martial in Afghan killings
By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A decorated U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in two forays from his remote military camp has been referred to a court martial over the slayings as a capital case, the military said on Wednesday.
No date has been set for the trial of Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, which is scheduled to take place at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, military officials said in a statement. Bales could face the death penalty, if convicted.
Military prosecutors have accused Bales, a veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, of gunning down the villagers - mostly women and children - over a five-hour period in March in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.
The shootings, among the deadliest involving civilians that the military has blamed on an individual U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War, have further damaged already strained U.S.-Afghan relations.
On the night of the slayings, Bales drank with two fellow soldiers then left his base and went to a village where he committed the first killings, prosecutors said. They said he then returned to the camp and had a brief exchange with another soldier before leaving for a second village and more killing.
The government believes Bales was solely responsible for the deaths, and survivors have testified to having seen only one U.S. soldier. But several indirect accounts have suggested that more than one soldier may have been involved.
Bales' lawyers have not set out an alternative theory to the prosecution's case, but have pointed out inconsistencies in pretrial testimony and highlighted incidents before the shooting where Bales lost his temper easily, possibly setting up an argument to support that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
A military jury must come to a unanimous decision in deciding guilt as well as whether to impose the death penalty. The military justice system also requires the president to approve the execution of a service member; the last U.S. military execution, for rape, occurred in 1961. Continued...