U.S. soldier could face death penalty for Afghan killings

Wed Dec 19, 2012 8:38pm EST
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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 was ordered to face a court martial before a military panel that could impose the death penalty if he is found guilty, the military said on Wednesday.

No date has been set for the capital 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.

U.S. military prosecutors want the death penalty for Bales, a veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who is accused 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. He then returned to the camp and had a brief exchange with another soldier before leaving for a second village and more killing, they said.

The government believes Bales was solely responsible for the deaths, and survivors have testified they saw only one U.S. soldier. But several indirect accounts have suggested more than one soldier may have been involved.

Bales' lawyers have not set out an alternative theory to the prosecution's allegations, but have pointed out inconsistencies in pretrial testimony and highlighted incidents before the shooting where Bales lost his temper easily.

Those incidents could possibly set up an argument that Bales was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.   Continued...

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, (L) 1st platoon sergeant, Blackhorse Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, is seen during an exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, in this August 23, 2011 DVIDS handout photo. REUTERS/Department of Defense/Spc. Ryan Hallock/Handout