Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan, will undergo a sanity review before a mental health defense can be presented, a military judge decided Thursday.
Col. Jeffery Nance ordered the review, a step in the ongoing proceedings against Bales, who faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and other charges in connection with a nighttime attack on two villages in Afghanistan last March.
Bales deferred entering a plea at Thursday’s arraignment, held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle.
A veteran of three tours in Iraq, Bales, 39, is accused of leaving his base in southern Afghanistan on March 11 and massacring civilians, mainly women and children, and burning some of the bodies. During a pretrial hearing in November, witnesses testified that Bales had been angered by a bomb blast near his outpost that severed a fellow soldier’s leg.
Bales’ mental state and whether that influenced his actions is one of the key issues in the case. The Army is seeking the death penalty and has been resisting any form of a mental health defense. Lawyers for Bales have argued that the soldier is not guilty and that his actions were influenced by his mental state.