The Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier accused of massacring 16 Afghan civilians in a nighttime rampage this spring will get his first public hearing in court Monday, giving his friends, family and the world a chance to better understand the case against him.
Our preview of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales pretrial, Article 32 hearing is set to run Sunday. Other reports setting up the case are already filtering out, including this one in Newsweek that focuses on claims that multiple soldiers could have been involved in the killings.
Many people are keeping an open mind about the charges against Bales, at least enough to empathize with his wife and two children who could not have expected the four-time combat veteran to come home as an accused war criminal.
The family’s supporters will be following news media reports from Bales’ hearing to learn about his state of mind, and to figure out how he could have slipped out of a combat outpost to kill nine children and seven adults in two separate villages, as the government alleges.
One, Clark County deputy prosecuting attorney Lori Volkman, has reached out to Bales’ wife, Kari. Volkman is a military spouse who wrote a letter to Kari Bales on her blog in March, extending support to the family.
“As negative information surfaces, which it inevitably will as the trial teams begin to position themselves, I suspect it will feel even more lonely for her. I’ve already told her I’m here to support her and the kids,” Volkman wrote in an email to The News Tribune last week.
Volkman stressed that she did not want to diminish the loss of the Afghan families in Kandahar Province’s Panjwai District on the night of March 11. Those victims have often gone unrepresented in American media reports focusing on explaining how a decorated soldier could have “snapped” in combat.
Early on, Bales received a wave of support from people who wanted to help him pay for his defense or make life easier on his family. Those donations dried up as the case fell of the public’s radar, said family spokesman Lance Rosen, a Seattle attorney.
The Robert Bales Defense Fund is at PO Box 7881, Covington WA 98042.
“Everybody, especially a soldier serving his country, is entitled to a fair trial,” Rosen said.
Bales’ Article 32 hearing will unfold over two weeks. It’s similar to a grand jury, and Bales’ defense attorneys will have opportunities to probe all of the Army’s evidence.
By the end of the hearing, we should have a reasonable understanding of how Bales left Combat Outpost Belambay, what his behavior was like just before the killings, how he turned himself in, how the Army gathered evidence against him and what the soldiers who served with Bales observed before and after the massacre. We might have some understanding of his state of mind, but defense psychologists or experts likely will not appear until later hearings.
The News Tribune plans to cover the hearing closely in print and online. I will be filing updates from the hearing to this blog as often as I can beginning Monday.