Prosecutors want death penalty for Afghan massacre soldier

Sgt. Robert Bales is accused of killing 16 civilians, including nine children

Topics: Afghanistan, Supreme Court, U.S. Military, Death Penalty, Massacre, Robert Bales,

Military prosecutors told a Washington state hearing that Sgt. Robert Bales must face the death penalty for his “heinous, brutal and methodical” crime.

Bales, 39, is accused of slipping away from his base at Camp Belambay in southern Afghanistan to attack two villages in March. 16 civilians, including nine children were killed. Several soldiers, testifying at Bales’ ongoing preliminary hearing, said he returned to their base covered in blood.

“Terrible, terrible things happened,” said prosecutor Major Rob Stelle, who argued that Bales’ statements when apprehended showed the soldier to have “a clear memory of what he had done, and consciousness of wrong-doing.”

The recommendations made from this preliminary hearing will be used to determine whether Bales will face court martial. In recent days, the hearing has convened at night to hear testimony from Afghan witnesses via videolink. As Reuters reported, the wife of an Afghan villager killed in the rampage said that more than one U.S. soldier was present when her husband was killed.


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“The wife’s account, relayed by Army criminal investigator Leona Mansapit, appeared to cast doubt on the government’s case that Bales alone was responsible for the deaths, although survivors have so far testified to seeing only a single soldier,” noted Reuters. Bales’ lawyer Emma Scanlan told the hearing that the evidence presented — including these inconsistencies — was not sufficient to go forward to a court martial.

The military hasn’t executed a service member for 50 years. In the most recent high-profile case against five soldiers accused of killing three Afghan civilians for sport, the prosecutors did not seek death-penalty court martial — the ringleader was sentenced to life in prison with possibility of parole.

 

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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