In this Aug. 23, 2011, file photo from the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution… (AP Photo / DVIDS, Spc. Ryan…)
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused in the late-night massacre of 16 men, women and children in southern Afghanistan, was using alcohol and steroids near the time of the murders, drugs that have been linked to symptoms of unusual aggression, Army prosecutors alleged Friday.
A new charge sheet returned against the 38-year-old serviceman also charges him with burning bodies of the victims and damaging a laptop computer in a purported attempt to impede the investigation into the March 11 attacks near a remote special operations post near the town of Belambay.
Except for the new evidence of substance use, the main difference in the new charge sheet is that it reduces the number of alleged murders from 17 to 16, clearing up a continued point of confusion since the killings first were reported. Army officials said a detailed investigation since the original charges were brought revealed that one of the victims was originally named twice.
The charges also include six counts of attempted murder, with victims that included four children, and six counts of assault that also involved shooting, with four children among those victims. A seventh assault charge alleges that Bales in February, the month before the killings, beat an Afghan man with his hands and knees, striking him in the face and the body.
The new charge sheet is the first indication of possible drug use in connection with the attacks, though it does not allege that either steroids or alcohol prompted the killings and makes no mention of possible side effects of either substance.
Steroids have long been linked to cases of strong aggression, often popularly described as “roid rage,” though the product Bales was alleged to have used, stanozolol, is consdered a milder form with fewer such side effects.
“Steroids can cause aggression and anger. It’s not uncommon for people on steroids to be just angry,” said former military psychologist Bart Billings, who has testified before Congress on the possible dangerous side effects of the Army’s widespread use of psychiatric drugs.
The charge sheet says Bales’ use and possession of the drug while on combat duty was a violation of miitary law. It alleges that Bales “on divers occasions” used alcohol while posted at Belambay between Nov. 1 and March 10 — the day before the predawn shootings — in violation of military orders prohibting alcohol use in Afghanistan.
Bales’ defense lawyers had initially denied Bales had used alcohol at the outpost, but attorney Emma Scanlan said Friday that military prosecutors claim to have evidence that the sergeant was drinking before the shootings.
“He was not an alcoholic,” Scanlan said. “The allegation that he may have used a limited amount of alcohol does not mean that alcohol fueled some kind of homicidal rage.”
Scanlan said defense lawyers continue to be convinced that Bales, who was on his fourth combat deployment, was not suffering from stress in connection with his family. His wife had put the family house up for sale as a result of purported financial problems shortly before the attacks.
"We stand by the original statement that he doesn't have any domestic issues outside of what happens in an ordinary marriage where one person is deployed multiple times," she said.
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