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Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to face murder charges in Afghanistan killings

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of gunning down Afghan civilians in their homes March 11, will face 17 counts of murder, U.S. officials say.

March 22, 2012|By David S. Cloud and Kim Murphy, Washington Bureau
  • U.S. officials describing the charges pending against Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales could not explain why he was being charged with 17 counts of murder -- the U.S. military had said there were 16 victims slain in the incident -- but it suggested that investigators had learned of another victim.
U.S. officials describing the charges pending against Army Staff Sgt.… (Spc. Ryan Hallock, U.S.…)

Reporting from Washington and Seattle — An Army staff sergeant who allegedly gunned down civilians in southern Afghanistan this month will be charged Friday with 17 counts of murder, two U.S. officials said Thursday evening.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, was on his fourth combat deployment when the killings occurred. He is also likely to be charged with six counts of attempted murder and assault, one of the officials said.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the charges had not been made public.

Many details of the attack, one of the worst civilian casualty incidents in the decade-old war, have not been disclosed. Bales' lawyer, John Henry Browne, has raised questions about the evidence against his client and contends that Bales does not remember what happened.

U.S. officials are hopeful that the charges, less than two weeks after the shootings, will be seen in Afghanistan as an indication that the United States is determined to hold the perpetrator accountable, although a court-martial could be months or even years away.

Bales was flown out of Afghanistan last week and has been in solitary confinement at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., while the killings are under investigation.

Bales allegedly left his military base about 3 a.m. on March 11 and headed for two nearby villages, where he is believed to have gone house to house gunning down Afghan civilians.

A U.S. official has said Bales was drinking on the night of the shootings.

U.S. officials had said there were 16 victims, including a dozen women and children. The two officials describing the pending charges could not explain Thursday why Bales was being charged with 17 counts of murder, but it suggested that investigators had learned of another victim.

U.S. and Afghan investigators have revisited the villages in Panjwayi district in Kandahar province since the killings.

Also Thursday, Bales was linked to a second incident of drunken violence near his home base in Washington state — this time a fight at a bowling alley in 2008. An earlier incident occurred in 2002.

The Pierce County prosecutor's office confirmed that Bales, who was assigned to a Stryker brigade at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, had been questioned by police after a scuffle but no charges were filed.

A police report on the incident, obtained by the Associated Press, said a woman told police that Bales, who had been drinking heavily, grabbed her hand and put it in his crotch, setting off a fight with the man who was accompanying her.

"Both of the two men were drinking, basically," Rebecca Stover, spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, told The Times.

She said prosecutors reviewed the police file but decided not to file charges.

"Basically it was a mutual scuffle between two drunk adult males, and it couldn't be determined who started the fight. So no charges were filed," she said.

In the 2002 case, Bales was charged with criminal assault when he was said to have threatened another customer after a night of drinking at a casino bar in Tacoma, Wash. He refused to leave, then attacked a security guard with a garbage can lid and struck him in the chest with his fist, according to court records.

Bales paid a $300 fine and underwent anger management training to have that charge dismissed.

Cloud reported from Washington and Murphy from Seattle.

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