U.S. military to arraign soldier accused of Afghan massacre

Thu Jan 17, 2013 6:06am EST
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By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 villagers in Afghanistan is due to be arraigned on Thursday on charges of premeditated murder, for which military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Robert Bales, a veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, is accused of gunning down the villagers - mostly women and children - in their homes in two villages in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.

The shootings occurred over a five-hour period in March. It was one of the deadliest incidents the military has blamed on a rogue U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War and strained U.S.-Afghan relations.

Prosecutors say Bales, 39, acted alone and with "chilling premeditation" when, armed with a pistol, a rifle and a grenade launcher, he left his base twice, returning in the middle of his rampage to tell a fellow soldier: "I just shot up some people."

During a pre-trial hearing in November at Washington state's Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where Bales is being held and where Thursday's arraignment will take place, witnesses testified that he had been angered by a bomb blast near his outpost that severed a fellow soldier's leg days before the shootings.

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

Bales was bound over for court martial in December and faces 16 murder charges, as well as other charges, including attempted murder, assault and drug and alcohol charges.

"(The arraignment) makes it official, that he is about to go into a court martial. It also gives the defense and prosecution an opportunity to present motions," Army spokesman Gary Dangerfield said, adding that Bales would hear the summary of charges against him and be able to enter a plea.   Continued...

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales (L) is seen during a training exercise at Fort Irwin, California, in this August 23, 2011 DVIDS handout photo. REUTERS/Department of Defense/Spc. Ryan Hallock/Handout/Files