US Soldier Could Face Death Over Afghan Massacre


WASHINGTON – Prosecutors called Tuesday for a US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers to face a full court-martial and even death.

But the family of Sergeant Robert Bales insisted he was innocent until proven guilty, calling him “courageous and honorable,” while his lawyer raised questions about the role of alcohol, drugs and stress in the tragedy.

Wrapping up their case in the pre-trial hearing, prosecutors lashed the “heinous and despicable” alleged massacre in March, details of which were given during an eight-day hearing at a military base south of Seattle.

“Based on the sheer brutality and nature of the crimes, it is our recommendation to proceed to a general court-martial,” said prosecutor Major Rob Stelle at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, Washington.

“Because of the heinous, brutal and methodical (nature of the alleged crimes), we ask that that the sentencing authority have the full range of punishment,” including the death penalty, he added.

Bales faces 16 counts of murder, six of attempted murder, seven of assault, two of using drugs and one of drinking alcohol. Seventeen of the 22 victims were women or children and almost all were shot in the head.

The 39-year-old allegedly left his base in the Panjwayi district of southern Kandahar province on the night of March 11 to commit the killings, which included nine children. He allegedly set several of their bodies on fire.

Prosecutors at the so-called Article 32 pre-trial hearing have alleged that Bales left the base twice to carry out the killings, returning in between and even telling a colleague what he had done.

The week-long hearing included three evening sessions — daytime in Afghanistan — to hear testimony by video conference from Afghan victims and relatives of those who died.

Stelle said the case should go to a court-martial because “something horrible happened” and Bales was clearly aware of what he had done.