US soldier in court over Afghan massacre

Prosecutors say they will seek death penalty for Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 civilians in a drunken rampage.

    Military prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty for a US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers when he ventured out of his camp drunk earlier this year.

    Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, 39, had allegedly been drinking whiskey and watching a violent action movie with comrades before heading out of his base twice to massacre victims including women and children in two nearby villages.

    The shootings in Afghanistan's Kandahar province in March marked the worst case of civilian slaughter blamed on an individual US soldier since the Vietnam War and eroded already strained US-Afghan ties after more than a decade of conflict in the country.

    The lead prosecutor, Lieutenant-Colonel Jay Morse, said he was submitting a "capital referral" in the case, requesting that Bales be executed if convicted.

    The soldier's wife and lawyer have claimed that Bales, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, could not remember what he did on the night of March 11 in the Panjwayi district.

    But prosecutors refuted that at the start of a so-called Article 32 hearing, held to determine whether there is enough evidence to hold a full court martial over the killings.

    "He was lucid, he was coherent, he was responsive," said Morse at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, adding that he admitted to the crimes, reportedly saying: "It's bad, really bad."

    Bales faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder, as well as charges of assault and
    wrongfully possessing and using steroids and alcohol while deployed.

    The hearing is expected to last two weeks and include witness testimony in Afghanistan carried by live video, including villagers and Afghan soldiers.

    According to Morse, Bales had been drinking with two fellow soldiers before he left his base, Camp Belambay, and went to a village where he committed the first killings.

    Morse said Bales then returned to the camp and told one of his drinking buddies "I just shot up some people," before leaving again for a second village am killing more people. Morse called Bales' actions "deliberate, methodical."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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