Afghanistan shooting suspect charged with 17 counts of murder

Army prosecutors today formally filed murder charges against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the lone suspect in the Kandahar shooting spree that killed 17 Afghan civilians, including many women and children. 

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in 2011. CREDIT: DVIDS / Spc. Ryan Haddock

Bales, who is being held at Fort Leavenworth, faces 17 counts of murder as well as 6 counts of attempted murder.

Read more: Obama, Panetta condemn rampage that killed at least 16 Afghan civilians

The matter has been referred to a court martial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which will conduct an Article 32 investigation to determine whether there is enough evidence to try Bales on the charges.

If convicted, Bales could be sentenced to death. But that is unlikely to happen given that the U.S. military hasn’t carried out an execution since 1961. However, the minimum sentence for premeditated murder is life imprisonment.

Bales’ civilian attorney, John Henry Browne, signaled this week that he may employ the temporary insanity defense, alluding to post-traumatic stress and head injuries that Bales may have suffered during his deployments.

Appearing on CBS News, Browne said his client remembers little about the shooting rampage that took place during the early morning of March 11th.

“He really doesn’t have any memory, and in my meetings with him clearly indicated that he’s got memory problems that go back long before that [incident]… We do know that he had a concussive head injury, which is serious and which is not treated for a variety of reasons,” Browne said. “Of course his mental state will become part of the approach that we’ll take to explain and, hopefully, defend him properly.”

Military officials alleged that Bales was drinking hours before he snuck out of base and walked to two nearby villages where he went door-to-door and shot people while they were asleep. Some of the villagers were also allegedly set on fire by Bales. More than half of those killed were women and children. Bales returned to the base later that morning and surrendered to ISAF authorities.

The attack provoked massive public outrage in Afghanistan, prompting President Barack Obama and top military officials to scramble and repair U.S.-Afghanistan relations during a critical juncture in the security transition phase. Politically, the shooting has increased pressure on the Obama administration to withdraw troops early from Afghanistan.

Read more: Panetta’s damage control mission in Afghanistan

Gen. John Allen, the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, assured Congress that the U.S. will complete the security transition by December 2014 despite the recent setbacks. He also warned that pulling out troops early may jeopardize the progress made so far in transferring security responsibilities to Afghan forces.

“We remain on track to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer be a safe haven for Al Qaeda and will no longer be terrorized by the Taliban,” said Allen before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “In the long run, our goals can only be achieved and then secured by Afghan forces. Transition, then, is the linchpin of our strategy, not merely the ‘way out.’


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2 Comments on “Afghanistan shooting suspect charged with 17 counts of murder

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