The affordable education loan option
TACOMA, Washington - A US soldier who gunned down 16 unarmed Afghan civilians in a nighttime rampage last year plans to testify on Thursday at sentencing proceedings set to decide whether he will ever have a chance at parole, his defense team said.
Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a decorated veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, has admitted to gunning down the villagers, mostly women and children, in attacks on their compounds in Kandahar province in March 2012.
Defense lawyers have been seeking to show that Bales suffered a breakdown under the pressure of his final deployment to Afghanistan, and said in court on Thursday that he planned to testify later in the session and asked for a few minutes to prepare.
Bales pleaded guilty in June in a deal that will spare him the death penalty. The jury of six military personnel will decide if he will spend the rest of his life in prison or if he will be eligible for parole after 20 years.
His civilian defense attorney, John Henry Browne, has said that Bales' testimony would also include an apology, and that under military court rules he would be exempt from cross examination.
“I don't think anybody with a rational mind could say Bob Bales didn't snap,” Browne told reporters on Wednesday after the court-martial session before a military jury.
Army prosecutors have said Bales acted alone and with chilling premeditation when, armed with a pistol, a rifle and a grenade launcher, he left his base twice during the night, returning in the middle of his rampage to tell a fellow soldier, “I just shot up some people.”
The prosecution rested its case on Wednesday after calling to the stand a string of witnesses including nine Afghans, among them a man who lost six of his seven children in the attacks and a teenager who was shot in the legs but survived.
The killings marked the worst case of civilian deaths blamed on a rogue US soldier since the Vietnam War and further eroded strained US-Afghan relations after more than a decade of conflict in that country.
Prosecutors had said they hoped to show Bales had engaged in a pattern of bad behavior that predated his multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bales' attorneys have said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury even before his deployment to Afghanistan.
Bales, who has claimed his memories of the killings are spotty, acknowledged the killings upon pleading guilty in June and told the court at the time there was “not a good reason in this world” for his actions.
During a nine-day pre-trial hearing last fall, witnesses testified that Bales had been upset by a bomb blast near his outpost that severed a fellow soldier's leg days before the shootings.