Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, pictured in August, was charged Friday with premeditated… (Spc. Ryan Hallack / EPA /…)
Reporting from Washington — Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Friday in a case that could lead to the death penalty.
Bales allegedly armed himself with a pistol, rifle and grenade launcher and shot men, women and children in a nighttime raid that stands as the worst American atrocity since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.
The charges -- given to Bales Friday at the high-security Army prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. -- also include six counts of attempted murder and six of assault carried out in two remote villages in southern Afghanistan on March 11. The incident has deeply shaken U.S.-Afghan relations and fueled outrage against the U.S. and its continued presence in that country.
Bales, a 38-year-old father of two, allegedly sneaked away from his combat post and carried out a one-man rampage. In some instances, villagers reported that he pulled children by the hair out of their beds and in others burned their bodies. He came looking for them armed with a 9-mm pistol and a M-4 rifle, which was also outfitted as a grenade launcher, officials said.
The formal charges now trigger what is expected to be a long and protracted military legal fight that could result in his execution or a sentence of life in prison with no parole if he is convicted. Though Bales is now being held in Kansas, the legal case will be handled out of his home posting at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the Tacoma, Wash., area. It is likely that he will be transferred there.
His attorney, John Henry Browne, has maintained that Bales remembers very little of the incident and has only fleeting memories of what happened before and after the attack.
But a senior U.S. official has told The Times that Bales initially told other soldiers he shot several Afghan men but did not mention that a dozen women and children were among the dead.
How a military investigation and trial work
President Obama weighs in on Trayvon Martin case
Juan Gris, famous for fracturing Picasso, gets a Google Doodle