The Norman Transcript

November 14, 2012

Preliminary hearing ends in Afghan massacre case

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

NORMAN — JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Army prosecutors on Tuesday asked an investigative officer to recommend a death penalty court-martial for a staff sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a predawn rampage, saying that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales committed “heinous and despicable crimes.”

Prosecutors made their closing arguments after a week of testimony in the preliminary hearing. Prosecutors say Bales, 39, slipped away from his remote base at Camp Belambay in southern Afghanistan to attack two villages early on March 11. Among the dead were nine children.

The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.

“Terrible, terrible things happened,” said prosecutor Maj. Rob Stelle. “That is clear.”

Stelle cited statements Bales made after he was apprehended, saying that they demonstrated “a clear memory of what he had done, and consciousness of wrong-doing.”

Several soldiers testified that Bales returned to the base alone just before dawn, covered in blood, and that he made incriminating statements such as, “I thought I was doing the right thing.”

An attorney for Bales argued there’s not enough information to move forward with the court-martial.

“There are a number of questions that have not been answered so far in this investigation,” attorney Emma Scanlan told the investigating officer overseeing the preliminary hearing.

Scanlan said that it’s still unknown what Bales’ state of mind was the evening of the killings.

An Army criminal investigations command special agent had testified last week that Bales tested positive for steroids three days after the killings, and other soldiers testified that Bales had been drinking the evening of the massacre.

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