Hearing ends for JBLM soldier accused in Afghan killingon November 13, 2012 @ 6:43 am (Updated: 2:45 pm - 11/13/12 )
In closing arguments in the Army's Article 32 hearing, prosecutors said Bales slipped away from his military outpost in Afghanistan to attack two villages in Kandahar province, killing 16 civilians, including nine children. The government's prosecutor, Major Rob Stelle said Bales' actions were "despicable," "brutal" and "methodical" and deserve "the ultimate punishment."
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.
Witnesses included a 7-year-old girl, who testified via satellite from Afghanistan, on how she hid behind her father when a gunman came to their village that night, how the stranger fired, and how her father died, cursing in pain and anger.
Earlier, the lead prosecutor, Lt. Col. Jay Morse said that on the night of the killings, Bales and two fellow soldiers watched a movie about a former CIA agent on a revenge killing spree. There was testimony that the soldiers were drinking whiskey out of a water bottle. Major Stelle 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."
In closing arguments, Defense Attorney Emma Scanlon argued that while the killings are "catastrophic and tragic," there are a number of unanswered questions undermining the prosecution case against Bales.
"There was testimony that Sgt. Bales was lucid, coherent and responsible, but we don't know what it means to be on alcohol, steroids and sleeping aids."
Scanlon also questioned whether Bales had a head injury or suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Outside court, Scanlon reminded reporters about well publicized problems with the diagnosis of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TMI) at Madigan Army Hospital. "Our client's screenings fit right into that time window and we need to know what that means," said Scanlon.
She argued the defense did not have the opportunity to inform the judge of "what kind of person and soldier Sgt. Bales is. There's a lot we don't know about Bales' mental state, timelines, and who this man is."
The family of Sgt. Bales issued a statement calling Bales "bright, courageous and honorable" and "a man who is a good citizen, soldier, son, husband, father, uncle and sibling. We in Bob's family are proud to stand by him."
Excerpt from the family's statement:
As a family, we all grieve deeply for the Afghani families who lost their loved ones on March 11, but we must all not rush to judgment. In America due process means innocence is always presumed unless and until a trial proves otherwise. There has been no trial yet and our family member is presumed by law and by us to be innocent.
In the coming weeks, the investigating officer, Col. Lee Deneke, will decide whether to recommend court-martial, with the ultimate decision to be made by Bales' brigade command. Bales, a 39-year-old father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., could face the death penalty.
If a court-martial takes place, it will be held at the base near Tacoma.
Bales has not entered a plea and did not testify at the preliminary hearing. His attorneys have not discussed the evidence, but say he has post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered a concussive head injury while serving in Iraq.
KIRO Radio's Tim Haeck reported from JBLM. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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