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Army Sgt. Robert Bales’ trial

The military court hearing for Army Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians, begins Monday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

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robert bales1JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — Sgt Robert Bales, who is accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers and is scheduled to face a military court on Sept. 3, will undergo a sanity review, the Army confirmed.

The review will begin on Sunday. The military does not have a timeline as to how long the review will last.




balesJOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCORD — Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers, is tentatively scheduled to face a  military court marital on Sept. 3.

Bales’ lawyer John Henry Browne confirmed Thursday that a military judge scheduled the court martial trial date. However, Browne said he will likely try to postpone the trial in order to give his team more time to prepare.

The charges against Bales include 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder, along with five other charges. In the incident on March 11, Bales allegedly shot 22 Afghan civilians.

JBLM’s Gary Dangerfield could not confirm the date of trail.

Local News

Bales defers entering plea in Afghan massacre case

photoJOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD– Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 villagers in Afghanistan, deferred to enter a plea when he appeared Thursday morning for his arraignment hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Thursday was the first time Bales appeared in court since a two-week pretrial hearing in November. He faces 16 murder charges, and other counts of attempted murder. The military said in December that a death penalty against Bales will be pursued.

Bales’ attorney, John Henry Browne, said he objects to portions of a judge-mandated psychological evaluation ordered Wednesday to evaluate the mental health of Bales in anticipation of a full trial. Browne wants private neuro-psychologists to be part of the evaluation; not just military doctors.

“Keep in mind these doctors are not independent doctors these are doctors who work for the army and the army’s trying to kill my client,” Browne said. “So we have concerns about that.”

No U.S. Military member has been executed in the United States since 1961.

The Army presented evidence during a pretrial hearing in November that included surveillance video, interviews with Afghan soldiers and Afghan witnesses. DNA evidence and blood samples on his rifle were also taken from the scene.

Bales allegedly admitted the killings to his fellow soldiers, and kept saying “I thought I was doing the right thing,” the Army prosecution asserted.

Brown said his client suffered from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder that went a long way in determing the mental health of Bales in his fourth tour of duty. He said Bales won’t be able to get a fair trial unless the process is slowed down.

“Is politics driving this case? I think unfortunately it is,” Brown said. “(Bales) is a strong person, I think he would agree with what I just said… he feels a bit abandoned by the army.”

robert bales1In a statement from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, it was confirmed that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who is accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers, will be brought to trial. The Army is seeking the death penalty.

The charges against Bales include 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder, along with five other charges. In the incident on March 11, Bales allegedly shot 22 Afghan civilians.

Bales was on his fourth tour of duty to a combat zone when he allgedly carried out the killings.

Bales is in confinement at JBLM and is represented by high-profile attorney John Henry Browne who is known for representing Ted Bundy and Colton Harris-Moore, among others.

The case will be heard by a panel of Army service members. Bales could undergo a “sanity board” review before the court-martial to determine if he has mental disease.

According to the LA Times, defense lawyers said Bales clearly wasn’t in his right mind at the time of the shooting. He suffered a concussive head injury earlier in the week before the shootings, and was suffering from post-traumatic stress. In addition, they said, Bales was called to duty at the remote special operations base and found a culture of widespread alcohol use.

“I think the general’s decision is understandable, but totally irresponsible. I think the Army is not taking responsibility for the soldiers in general, and … is trying to take the focus off the considerable errors they made as far as Sgt. Bales is concerned, as far as a lot of other soldiers are concerned: It’s a system failure,” Bales’ civilian defense lawyer, John Henry Browne, told the Los Angeles Times.

Bales’ wife, Kari, said her wish from the start was for her husband to obtain a fair trial, and emphasized that he must be presumed innocent until all the evidence comes out.

“I no longer know if a fair trial for Bob is possible, but it very much is my hope, and I will have faith,” she said in a statement. “My husband is an American soldier. He is a citizen of the USA, and he is very much loved by me and by our children,” she added. “I am so happy that my children and I can visit Bob every weekend and that for a few hours, I can see and feel the love that flows between my children and their father.”

Military prosecutors do not comment on ongoing cases. Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, spokesman at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, said the next step is for Bales to be arraigned on the charges. No date has been set.

JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. — The case against U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales appeared at first to be horribly simple: Days after a bomb blew off the leg of a friend in southern Afghanistan, the 39-year-old combat veteran picked up his rifle, a pistol and a grenade launcher, walked to two villages and allegedly conducted a one-man campaign of vengeance, killing 16 civilians and wounding six more.

But by the time a weeklong hearing wound up Tuesday in a military courtroom, one of the Army’s highest-profile war crimes from Afghanistan raised almost as many questions as it answered.

If Bales acted alone, why were shots heard coming from one of the villages 20 minutes after he was spottedreturning to the base for the first time?

Why was a witness who claimed to have seen two U.S. soldiers killing her husband while helicopters flew overhead not brought in to testify?

Why were the crime scenes so very different — at one house, a surgical execution of the head of the family, while at the next house, 11 men, women and children were shot and possibly stabbed, their bodies piled in a heap and burned?

The Article 32 hearing, held to determine whether there was evidence to hold the serviceman for a court-martial, drew a portrait not just of a rogue soldier, defense lawyers said. It revealed a U.S. combat outpost at which soldiers spent their evenings drinking alcohol, snorting Valium and taking steroids, all three of which Bales apparently had done before asking a friend to “take care of my kids” and setting out into the darkness outside the base perimeter, laughing.

“We have a dysfunctional, drinking and drugging … team,” civilian defense lawyer Emma Scanlan said in her closing argument.

“We can’t isolate Sgt. Bales within a bubble,” Scanlan said, noting that he was under the supervision of Special Forces officers. “They are the command. They are in charge. And they are terrible at it.”

Army prosecutors claimBales acted alone and with chilling rationality: walking to the village of Alkozai, where he is accused of killing four people and wounding six, coming back to the base and telling a friend what he had done, then venturing out again to the village of Najiban, where he is accused of killing 12.

When Bales returned to Camp Belambay the second time, he admitted to friends he had done some “sick” things, and told them they would thank him when fighting season got underway again during warmer weather later in the spring, saidprosecutor Maj. Robert Stelle.

“Terrible, terrible things happened. That is clear. The second thing that is clear is that Staff Sgt. Bales did it,” Stelle said.

He urged investigating officer Col. Lee Deneke to recommend a full court-martial and that it be tried as a capital case, with the possibility of the death penalty. Bales committed “the worst, most despicable crime a human being can commit: murdering children in their own homes,” Stelle said.

If Deneke recommends a court-martial, a lengthy process of mental health evaluations and further forensic reports will follow. Defense lawyers have pledged there will be a full exploration of the medical care Bales received at the Madigan Army Medical Center for an earlier traumatic brain injury.

The hospital south of Seattle was the subject of an investigation this year for tossing aside diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, making it harder for those soldiers to receive follow-up medical care.

In the year before the shootings, Scanlan said, Bales had received an exemplary evaluation, in which he waspraised for “a strong moral compass, never wavering from what was right.”

What went wrong?

Scanlan suggested part of the answer might lie in the steroids and sleep aids Bales was taking, along with the Jack Daniels he drank with two friends on the evening before the killings as they watched “Man on Fire,” a movie about a former CIA operative who executes a violent campaign of revenge.

“They drank a ton, and they were all drunk,” Scanlan said, noting that testimony showed that one ofthe soldiers who’d been drinking with Bales that night, Cpl. David Godwin, was stumbling, slurring his words and smelled like alcohol four hours later.

The prosecution said Bales had plenty of time to reach both villages and return at the end of the night with his clothing and weapons covered in blood. Before he left, prosecutorssaid, he had discussed his frustration with the Army’s lack of response to the bomb thatblew off his friend’sleg; after his arrest, he reminded one soldier of an Afghan machine gunner the unit had faced earlier.

“That’s not going to happen again,” Bales said, according to Staff Sgt. Ross O’Rourke.

Prosecutors also established that DNA from at least one of the women killed at the home of Haji Mohammed Wazir in Najiban was found on Bales’ clothing.

Yet defense lawyers continue to raise questions about whether Bales was the only one responsible — whether one person could have killed so many people in so many locations in one night.

A lot of the evidence suggests otherwise, Scanlan said, pointing to an agent from the Army’s Criminal Investigations Command who said that Masuma Dawood, whose husband was shot, told her that two soldiers had killed her husband.

Army officials saidDawood did not testify because of “cultural differences,” and the reluctance of Afghan families to allow a woman to testify in an American courtroom, even by remote video from Afghanistan. But sources in Afghanistan have told the Los Angeles Times that Dawood was, in fact, willing to testify.

Scanlan said the timeline laid out by prosecutors also raises questions, beginning with the Afghan guard who testified that he checked his watch, and was certain that the U.S. soldier he saw — returning from the initial killings in Alkozai, prosecutors allege — had returned to Camp Belambay at 1:30 a.m.

The shots heard from the direction of Alkozai didn’t stop till 1:50 a.m.,the defense attorney said.

“I don’t know what that means,” Scanlan said. “But one thing it means is, if you believe what the government is telling you, that Sgt. Bales is the one who came back through that wire at 1:30, then somebody else was firing for another 20 minutes.”

Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD —A weeklong hearing in the case against Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales ended in a military courtroom Tuesday with defense attorneys declaring that “only one side of the story” has been heard.

Bales faces charges on 16 counts of premeditated murder in the killings of  civilians in southern Afghanistan, which could make him eligible for the death penalty, and six counts of attempted murder.

“Just to be clear, nobody’s denying that what happened to people in the villages of Alkozai and Najiban is not a catastrophic … tragedy. This is beyond dispute,” civilian defense lawyer Emma Scanlan said at the close of the Article 32 hearing to determine whether Bales is to be held for a court-martial. “The question we’re asking now is whether you have enough to feel confident that this [case] should go forward.”

In their first comprehensive assessment of the evidence, defense lawyers made it clear they will not only raise questions about whether Bales acted alone in the post-midnight shooting spree, but whether he acted coldly and rationally, as Army prosecutors allege.

Yet to be explored, they said, are the extent to which Bales was affected by an earlier traumatic brain injury, and how impaired he might have been by using alcohol, a sleeping aid and steroids.

Some of Bales’ family members appeared briefly outside the courtroom at the conclusion of the proceedings, during which testimony about Bales’ unhappiness with his home life also emerged.

“Much of the testimony was painful, even heartbreaking, but we are not convinced the government has shown us the truth … about what happened that night,” Stephanie Tandberg, the sister of Bales’ wife, told reporters, reading from a statement.

“As a family, we all grieve deeply for the Afghani families who lost their loved ones on March 11, but we must not rush to judgment,” she said. “We know Bob as bright, courageous and honorable…. We in Bob’s family are proud to stand by him.”

Prosecutors summarized the testimony of more than three dozen witnesses who traced Bales’ pathway that night from drinking with colleagues at the base to a journey to two different villages near the base, where 16 people were killed in their homes and six others were injured.

“Sgt. Bales gave a report to Sgt. [Jason] McLaughlin halfway through that night,” one of the prosecuting attorneys, Maj. Rob Stelle, told the court. “He told Sgt. McLaughlin, ‘Hey, I just went to Alkozai and shot up some people … now I’m going to go to Najiban and do some more.”

The multiple statements Bales made to his colleagues in the hours after his arrest, Stelle said, demonstrate a clear memory of what happened, and a consciousness of guilt.

He urged investigating officer Col. Lee Deneke to recommend a full court-martial and to also recommend it be tried as a capital case, with the possibility of the death penalty. Nine of the victims “were children murder[ed] in their own homes,” Stelle said.

“The heinous, brutal, methodical, despicable nature of these crimes supports the recommendation, sir.”

Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times


Looking gravely across a courtroom in Afghanistan, 7-year-old Zardana raised her hand Saturday and swore to testify truthfully about the night a man who prosecutors say was a U.S. soldier shot her in the head, shot her brother in the leg and killed her grandmother.

“Yes I do, and I’m not going to lie,” said Zardana, wearing a lavender headscarf and fiddling with a juice box as her image was beamed by video to another courtroom in Washington state, where U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is charged with 16 counts of murder.

Alternately grave and smiling while sitting at the long witness table next to an interpreter, Zardana was asked to testify only about the color of the T-shirt her attacker was wearing during the predawn attack March 11 in the village of Alkozai.

“He was wearing pants like this color,” Zardana said, pointing to the interpreter’s khaki shirt, “and also a T-shirt like you’re wearing,” nodding toward defense lawyer John Henry Browne’s black T-shirt.

Even that brief testimony was an accomplishment: Doctors at a remote U.S. Army post near Kandahar, seeing pieces of brain in her hair after the shootings, had given her up as hopeless. They turned to other, less injured patients. Then when they were finished, they discovered that the little girl was, against all odds, still breathing.

Zardana spent three months in a U.S. Navy hospital in San Diego over the summer. “The first time I saw her, I wasn’t sure she was going to live,” her father, Samiullah, testified Saturday. “The only thing she was doing was opening her eyes.”

But in the U.S., he said, she underwent successful medical treatment. “They tried their best and they helped a lot…. She’s better now.”

Zardana was followed at Saturday’s military pretrial hearing by three other young survivors of the shootings: Robina, also 7; Hekmatullah “Khan” Gul, 10; and Rafiullah, who is in his mid-teens.

All three calmly gave detailed accounts of how their relatives were felled by gunfire as Bales, a 39-year-old veteran of four combat deployments, stared at the video screen without expression.

Robina, wearing a deep red scarf and talking animatedly as she folded her fingers together, described how she hid behind her father for protection, only to get hit by a bullet when he was shot.

“My father … was cursing the person as he was coming in the house. Then they shot my father right through the throat and the chest,” she said. “At the same time, the bullet penetrated my body, and hit me in the leg.”

Rafiullah, Zardana’s brother, said the two of them were staying with their grandmother and younger sibling when the gunman entered, a blazing light on his gun, and pointed his pistol at his sister.

His grandmother, Na’ikmarga, “tackled” the gunman as Zardana and Rafiullah bolted next door, he said. Na’ikmarga eventually caught up with the two youngsters, but the gunman followed and shot all three of them, killing Na’ikmarga and several other people who were at the adjoining compound. Rafiullah was hit in the leg.

Most of the children were queried about whether more than one soldier was present during the attacks — a reference to claims by some villagers that at least two, and possibly more, U.S. soldiers were seen on the night of the killings.

Robina insisted she had seen “a lot of lights” outside the family compound. “It almost made it like daylight,” she said. “There were too many lights.”

In an earlier interview with the Los Angeles Times, Hikmatullah Gul, who usually goes by “Khan,” said two U.S. soldiers were in the room where his father, Mohammad Dawud, was killed in front of his family.

“One held my father, and one shot him,” he said in that interview.

On the witness stand Saturday, Khan didn’t repeat that assertion but did say he saw something outside. “There was light outside and there were soldiers,” he said.

Army criminal investigations agent Leona Mansapit testified that Dawud’s wife, Masuma, told her that two U.S. soldiers had entered her home. One led her husband out the door. As she tried to follow, another pushed her back and then grabbed on to her husband.

“The other soldier had a pistol to his head, and pulled the trigger and shot him,” Mansapit said she was told by the widow, who so far has not testified, reportedly because of reluctance on the part of conservative male family members to allow Afghan women to participate in the proceedings.

“She mentioned that she heard other Americans speaking English among themselves, like they were searching other rooms in the compound,” Mansapit added.

Asked by co-defense counsel Emma Scanlan if she had any reason to doubt Dawud’s account, Mansapit said no. “I wasn’t questioning her credibility, or anything like that.

But then Mohammad Dawud’s brother, Mullah Baraan, said he double checked with Masuma shortly before the hearing and concluded that her initial report to investigators that she had seen two U.S. soldiers in the house was “a mistake.”

“Right now, I’m saying only one person,” Baraan testified.

Such confusion has permeated the proceedings, known as an Article 32 hearing, held to air evidence and determine whether Bales should be held for a court-martial, and whether the death penalty should be considered.

In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Baraan said villagers simply find it hard to believe that Bales could have carried out two separate attacks over a five-hour period without anyone at Camp Belambay being aware of it.

“They say it is only one person. We think this is crazy.… They never go around alone. Never, ever a soldier goes by himself, unless they have a helicopter, they don’t go out … because they are scared,” Baraan said.

He said villagers also will be skeptical of any attempt by Bales’ defense to claim he was mentally incapacitated.

“If someone is crazy, he would shoot the people at the gate. But he passes everybody, and goes to shoot these people [in the villages] he maybe met once before, and shoots them one by one? Why didn’t he shoot the soldiers on the way? Why didn’t he shoot his friends if he was so crazy? This is our question,” he said. “We aren’t stupid. We can count. They want to pin it on a crazy guy.”

Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

(JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD) An Afghan guard testified Friday night that he was “shocked” to see a U.S. soldier returning to the remote Army camp he was guarding around 1:30 a.m., the same night 16 Afghan civilians were shot to death in their homes.

The guard, identified only as Nematullah, said he attempted to confront the soldier, who “seemed nervous,” and several times told him to stop. But the soldier merely said, “How are you?” in the local Afghan language, and then said something in English that Nematullah didn’t understand before proceeding into the camp.

U.S. Army prosecutors have alleged that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a 39-year-old veteran of four combat deployments, left Camp Belambay twice after midnight March 11, killing villagers first in the hamlet of Alkozai, then going out a second time and mounting a second series of attacks in the village of Najiban.

The makeshift Army camp, in a farming region southwest of Kandahar that is a stronghold of the Taliban, was home to a detachment of Army special forces troops who several days earlier had been hit with an improvised explosive device in another nearby village.

The idea of an American soldier going outside the base alone in the dead of night was unheard of, several U.S. soldiers have testified. Nematullah said he had no idea what the American was doing and alerted other Afghan guards on duty that night.

“I was shocked and also I was nervous. I can’t believe that the guy was coming this way,” Nematullah, testifying from Afghanistan on a video feed, said through an interpreter.

He told the guard who relieved him at 2 a.m., Tosh Ali, to be “on the lookout” because of the unusual incident. Tosh Ali testified that he saw an American soldier leaving the base at 2:30 a.m.

“He was laughing,” Tosh Ali said.

Like the previous guard, Tosh Ali ordered him to stop, but only got the reply, “How are you?” in his own language.

He said the soldier, dressed in a standard Army camouflage uniform, walked toward an alley and past a tree, and he could not see where he went from there.

Bales, a father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., faces charges on 16 counts of premeditated murder, which could make him eligible for the death penalty; and six counts of attempted murder, along with alcohol and drug charges. The Article 32 hearing will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to hold him for a court-martial.

The testimony of the Afghan soldiers, taken Friday night because of the 12 1/2-hour time difference with Afghanistan, is crucial in helping to establish a timeline for the incidents and also to determine whether any other soldiers were seen leaving the base.

One U.S. soldier previously testified that an Afghan guard had told him he saw two Americans returning to the base; Nematullah said he saw only one.

No American guards were on duty at the main gate, and it is not clear how soon U.S. troops were notified that an American had been seen returning to the base from outside. The sighting of the soldier leaving the base triggered a roll call that established that Bales was missing.

He was taken into custody after returning to the base shortly after 4:30 a.m., prosecutors say, covered in blood and carrying a rifle, a 9-millimeter pistol and a grenade launcher.

Kim Murphy, LA Times


VIDEO: Bales pre-trial hearing Day 1