SEATTLE – The U.S. Army said Wednesday it will seek the death penalty against the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a predawn rampage in March, a decision his lawyer called “totally irresponsible.”
The announcement followed a pretrial hearing last month for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 39, who faces premeditated murder and other charges in the attack on two villages in southern Afghanistan.
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.
Prosecutors said Bales left his remote southern Afghanistan base early on March 11, attacked one village and returned to the base, then slipped away again to attack another nearby compound. Of the 16 people killed, nine were children.
No date has been set for Bales’ court martial, which will be held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
His civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, told the Associated Press he met with Army officials last week to argue his client shouldn’t face the possibility of the death penalty, given that Bales was serving his fourth deployment in a war zone when the killings occurred.
“The Army is not taking responsibility for Sgt. Bales and other soldiers that the Army knowingly sends into combat situations with diagnosed PTSD, concussive head injuries and other injuries,” Browne said. “The Army is trying to take the focus off the failure of its decisions, and the failure of the war itself, and making Sgt. Bales out to be a rogue soldier.”
Bales’ defense team has said the government’s case is incomplete, and outside experts have said a key issue going forward will be to determine if Bales suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Bales served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For Bales to face execution, the court martial jury must unanimously find him guilty of premeditated murder. They also must determine that at least one aggravating factor applies, such as multiple or child victims, and that the aggravating factor substantially outweighs any extenuating or mitigating circumstances.