Army prepares for Afghanistan massacre sentencing

Last Updated: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - 10:51

Joint Base Lewis-McChord (US): Afghan villagers will have a chance to sit face-to-face with Staff Sgt Robert Bales for the first time since he stormed their mud-walled compounds in pre-dawn darkness and slaughtered 16 people, most of them women and children.

Bales pleaded guilty in June in a deal to avoid the death penalty for the March 11, 2012, massacre. His sentencing begins today with the selection of military jurors whose only task will be to determine whether he is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, or without it.

Army prosecutors have flown in nine Afghan villagers to testify at the hearing, which is expected to last about a week.

Several villagers testified by video link from Afghanistan during a hearing last year, including a young girl in a bright headscarf who described hiding behind her father as he was shot to death. Boys told of begging the soldier to spare them, yelling: "We are children! We are children!" A thick-bearded man told of being shot in the neck by a gunman from an arm`s length away.

The villagers, some of whom have expressed outrage that Bales is going to escape the death penalty, have not encountered him in person since the attack, nor have they heard him apologise. Bales, who told a judge at his plea hearing that he couldn`t explain why he committed the killings, did not say then that he was sorry, but his lawyers hinted that an apology might be forthcoming at his sentencing.

The Army has not identified the witnesses it has flown in from Afghanistan. They are expected to testify in Pashtun through an interpreter, a prosecutor said at a hearing yesterday.

Bales` attorneys have indicated they plan to present evidence that could warrant leniency, including that during at least one of his prior deployments to Iraq, Bales had been prescribed the anti-malaria drug mefloquine, known by its brand name Lariam. Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a new warning that the drug can cause long-term neurological damage and serious psychiatric side effects.

"Our general theme is that Sgt Bales snapped," said John Henry Browne, one of his civilian attorneys. "That`s kind of our mantra, and we say that because of all the things we know: the number of deployments, the head injuries, the PTSD, the drugs, the alcohol."

PTI

First Published: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - 10:49

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