‘Prove it’ – Defense for solider accused of Afghan massacre
Joint Base Lewis-McChord Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a four-tour combat soldier, faces an Article 32 hearing today.
The Lake Tapps husband and father of two is accused of sneaking away from his outpost, twice on the night of March 11, and killing 16 Afghan civilians.
Kari Bales is standing by her man.
In an interview with ABC News on the eve of the court proceeding, she says, “My husband did not do this. Did not do this. I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that my husband is not involved.”
Her disbelief hasn’t changed since she talked with NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview shortly after Bales was detained.
“This is not him,” she says. “It’s not him.”
The Stryker soldier allegedly killed nine children and seven adults in two separate villages.
Mrs. Bales first heard about the massacre from her parents, who called her to say a 38-year-old JBLM staff sergeant had turned himself in after the murders.
“I prayed and prayed that my husband wasn’t involved,” she says. “Then I received a phone call from the Army saying they’d like to come out and talk to me. I was relieved because when you get a phone call you know that your soldier is not deceased.”
“I remember they held my hand and said that perhaps he left the base and gone out and perhaps killed the Afghan civilians,” she recalled. “That was really the only sentence and I started crying.”
When Bales talked with her husband shortly after he was arrested, she says he was “confused.”
She was the person who told him about the murders of Afghan women and children. She says he was “blown away” when he found out he was being portrayed as a murderer in news reports.
Military investigators say they have two surveillance videos from the remote combat outpost that show Sgt. Bales returning to the base, putting down his weapon and surrendering.
They claim Sgt. Bales had an M-4 rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher as he attacked the villages of Balandi and Alkozai, in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province.
The Army’s prosecution team is led by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Morse. They will reveal more of their evidence over the next few days.
One thing they’ll have to deal with is eye witness testimony soon after the killings that indicated more than one soldier was involved.
“It was around 3 at night that they entered the room. They took my uncle out of the room after asking him, ‘Where’s the Taliban?’ My uncle replied that he didn’t know. Finally, they came into this room and murdered all the children in the room. There was even a two month old baby,” a witness said hours after the attack.
“Prove it,” says John Henry Browne, the defense attorney representing Bales.
“There’s no crime scene. There’s no DNA, there’s no confession,” Browne said in an earlier interview with KIRO Radio’s Ross and Burbank show. “This is going to be a very difficult case for the government to prove.”
In a way, Browne says this case will put the war in Afghanistan on trial.
He described several conditions that could have influenced Bales’ behavior during his deployment. Bales previously had suffered a head injury and possibly dealt with post-traumatic stress, for example.
“Some 24 or 28 percent of the soldiers are highly medicated while they’re on active duty. Things that would have disqualified them as soldiers ten years ago, now the government is giving them drugs,” Browne says. “That could become an issue in this case for sure.”
Bales himself will not make any statements during the Article 32 hearing. The court proceeding is similar to a pretrial hearing in civilian courts. It’s scheduled to last one week in Tacoma, and one week with testimony from Afghanistan via the Internet.
After hearing the evidence, and the defense team’s challenge of the government’s evidence, an Army judge will determine whether the case against Bales will go forward.
By LINDA THOMAS