An Army prosecutor today argued that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales committed “the worst, most despicable crimes a human being can commit” in contending the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker soldier should face the death penalty for “murdering children in their own homes.”
Maj. Rob Stelle’s argument concluded an eight-day evidence hearing for Bales, 39, who allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians and wounded six more in the early hours of March 11. The massacre involved the worst war crimes from the conflict in Afghanistan.
Stelle’s summation of the case as one that merits the death penalty contrasted with a closing argument from Bales’ defense team, who argued that the Army has left too many questions unanswered to proceed.
“There are unanswered questions about mental state, about timeline, about who this man is,” defense attorney Emma Scanlan said.
Over the past week, the Army has called witnesses who said Bales was missing from his outpost – Village Stability Platform Belambay – on the night of the killings, and that when he returned, he wore a bloodied uniform with some kind of cape.
Witnesses said Bales made confessions to his fellow soldiers at Belambay once the apprehended him, such as, “Some sick (stuff) is going to come out of this and I hope you guys don’t think less of me.”
Furthermore, Afghan witnesses testified from Kandahar province during three nighttime sessions in which they described a single American soldier barging into their homes and shooting civilians.
That testimony could be enough for Army investigating officer Col. Lee Deneke to recommend that Bales’ case proceed to a full court-martial. Murder carries a mandatory minimum life sentence under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
But Scanlan said argued that her team is still early in the process of gathering evidence to defense Bales, an Ohio native and former Lake Tapps resident.
She only yesterday received an Army report describing the chemicals in Bales’ system after his arrest. They include steroids, alcohol and sleeping pills.
She challenged the Army’s depiction of Bales as methodical in executing the killings and coherent after the massacre.
“We don’t know what alcohol, steroids and sleeping aids do to a person who is lucid, coherent and responsive,” she said.
Scanlan said Bales received some of those substances from Green Berets at Belambay. His infantry unit was attached to a team from the 7th Special Forces Group and isolated from its normal command structure from its Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade.
“They are the commanders,” she said, referring to the Special Operators. “They are in charge, and they are terrible at it.”
The defense attorney further questioned whether multiple soldiers could have been involved in the killings. She cited testimony from Afghan witnesses who have given varying accounts of the attacks over the past eight months, some describing multiple American soldiers in their villages.
“There is nothing methodical as to what happened here,” she said.
Scanlan also implied that Bales could have suffered from a head injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. She suggested that Bales passed through clinics at Madigan Army Medical Center that have come under scrutiny because of variances in their diagnoses. Scanlan would not say whether Bales ever received a diagnosis for either a traumatic brain injury or PTSD.
After the hearing, Bales’ sister-in-law read a statement for the family that called the past eight days of testimony “painful, even heartbreaking.”
“We are not convinced the government has shown us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what happened that night,” Stephanie Tandberg said.
Tandberg asked that people help ensure that Bales receives a fair trial by making contributions to his legal defense fund at www.helpsgtbales.com.
Deneke said he expects to write his report on the hearing by this weekend. He is to submit it to a Lewis-McChord brigade commander. Lewis-McChord senior Army officer Lt. Gen. Robert Brown likely would be the authority on whether Bales should have the death penalty on the table if his case proceeds to a court-martial.