November 6, 2012 in Nation/World

Details in Afghan massacre emerge

Kim Murphy Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

In this detail of a courtroom sketch, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, seated at front-right, listens Monday during a preliminary hearing in a military courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
(Full-size photo)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD – A U.S. Army sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in a middle-of-the-night rampage returned halfway through the killing spree and told a friend: “Hey Mac, I just shot some people in Alkozai,” an Army prosecutor said Monday at the opening of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ preliminary hearing on murder charges.

When that fellow sergeant appeared not to believe him, telling him to “quit messing around” because he needed to go back to sleep, Bales said: “Cool, I’m going to Najiban, I’ll be back at 5.” At that point, the 39-year-old sergeant left the base again and allegedly shot 11 people in that second village, south of the Army outpost near Kandahar.

A general alarm was raised after an Afghan guard spotted Bales leaving the base the second time. By the time Bales returned – covered in blood and wearing an Afghan shawl around his shoulders – he seemed surprised to be greeted with leveled guns and demands that he drop his weapon, prosecutor Lt. Col. Joseph Morse told a hearing officer at the Article 32 proceeding.

“Are you (expletive) kidding me? … Mac, did you rat me out?” Bales allegedly said as he was ordered to drop his weapons, which included an M-4 rifle, a pistol and a grenade launcher.

“He makes multiple admissions that not only did he commit these crimes … (but) he was lucid, he was coherent, he was responsive,” Morse said.

“You will hear him apologize multiple times, not for doing the killings, but for letting the team down,” the prosecutor said. “You’re going to hear Staff Sgt. Bales say, ‘It’s bad, it’s really bad.’ … You’ll hear Sgt. Bales tell (a colleague), ‘Some sick (expletive) is going to come out of this.’ ”

The prosecutor’s statement provides the first detailed account of the early morning of March 11, when Bales is accused of engaging in a five-hour attack in both Alkozai, just north of the special forces base at Camp Belambay, and in Najiban.

Morse said Bales, a veteran of four combat deployments and father of two, was drinking Jack Daniel’s and soda with friends and watching the movie “Man on Fire” at the base on the evening before the attacks.

Just before leaving the base at midnight, Morse said, Bales appeared at the room of one of the special forces team members deployed at the camp and had a “hugely important” conversation that prosecutors believe helped explain Bales’ motivation for the killings, Morse said.

Bales told the team member he “admires” the special forces “team guys” deployed at Camp Belambay and wished he could have such a job. He talked about domestic problems at home and expressed frustration with the rules of engagement that he believed led to injuries of U.S. forces sustained from an improvised explosive device in the days before the shootings, Morse said.

Bales told him “they should have done something the very next day to find the people that planted the IED,” Morse said.

Prosecutors concede that their forensic evidence is limited; they weren’t able to visit the scenes of the shootings until a month later. But early DNA evidence has matched a woman’s DNA found on the walls and floor of Najiban resident Mohammed Wazir’s house with DNA found on Bales’ boots, shirt, pants, underwear and weapons, Morse said.

The hearing is expected to last up to two weeks.

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