November 28, 2014

US soldier behind Afghan massacre due in court

By Sayed Jawad - Sun Nov 04 2012, 9:33 am

A US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers is due in court Monday for the first time since the March massacre, in a pre-trial hearing to decide if he should face a full court martial.

For seven months, Joint Base Lewis-McChord Staff Sgt. Robert Bales sat in confinement while the military stayed all but silent about its case against the four-time combat veteran accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians in a nighttime rampage.

That silence is about to end as the Army on Monday opens its first public hearing in a courtroom drama that could lead to a death penalty court-martial for Bales, a father of two and former Lake Tapps resident.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is expected to attend throughout the Nov 5-16 Article 32 hearing at Fort Lewis-McChord in the western state of Washington, base spokesman Gary Dangerfield told AFP.

Relatives of the victims and witnesses could testify via videolink from a US air base in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, according to media reports, although the spokesman could not confirm that.

Bales, 39, is accused of leaving his base in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province on the night of March 11 to commit the killings, which included nine children. He allegedly set several of their bodies on fire.

Bales’ alleged crimes upended NATO’s war plan in southern Afghanistan, halted combat operations for several days and raised concerns at home about the well-being of the military 11 years into an era of continual ground combat by an all-volunteer Army.

The killings are thought to be the deadliest crime by a US soldier during the decade-long conflict and tested Washington and Kabul’s already tense relationship to the limit.

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