August 24, 2013

U.S. soldier who slaughtered civilians gets life without parole

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales pleaded guilty in June to avoid the death penalty for massacring Afghan women and children in their homes.

The Associated Press

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — The U.S. soldier who massacred 16 Afghan civilians last year in one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole — the most severe sentence possible, but one that left surviving victims and relatives of the dead deeply unsatisfied.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, shown during an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

2011 photo from Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System

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Hajji Mohammad Naim, who was shot in the neck during an attack on his Afghan village by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, listens during a news conference after a sentencing hearing for Bales at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. Bales, who massacred 16 Afghan civilians in 2012 in one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, was sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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"We wanted this murderer to be executed," said Hajji Mohammad Wazir, who lost 11 family members in the attack by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. "We were brought all the way from Afghanistan to see if justice would be served. Not our way — justice was served the American way."

Bales, 40, pleaded guilty in June in a deal to avoid the death penalty for his March 11, 2012, raids near his remote outpost in Kandahar province, when he stalked through mud-walled compounds and shot 22 people — 17 of them women and children. Some screamed for mercy, while others didn't even have a chance to get out of bed.

The soldier showed no emotion as the sentence was announced at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle.

His mother, sitting in the front row of the court, bowed her head, rocked in her seat, and wept.

An interpreter flashed a thumbs-up sign to a row of Afghan villagers who were either wounded or lost family members in the March 11, 2012, attacks.

"I saw his mother trying to cry, but at least she can go visit him," Hajji Mohammad Naim, who was shot in the neck, said after the sentencing. "What about us? Our family members are actually 6 feet under."

The villagers, who traveled nearly 7,000 miles to testify against Bales, spoke with reporters and asked through an interpreter what it would be like for someone to break into American homes and slaughter their families.

Bales never offered an explanation for why he armed himself with a 9 mm pistol and an M-4 rifle and left his post on the killing mission, but he apologized on the witness stand Thursday and described the slaughter as an "act of cowardice, behind a mask of fear, bulls--- and bravado."

The six-member jury weighing whether he would be eligible for parole after 20 years took about 90 minutes to decide the case in favor of prosecutors who described Bales as a "man of no moral compass."

"In just a few short hours, Sgt. Bales wiped out generations," Lt. Col. Jay Morse told the jury in his closing argument. "Sgt. Bales dares to ask you for mercy when he has shown none."

A commanding general overseeing the court-martial has the option of reducing the sentence to life with the possibility of parole.

Defense attorney Emma Scanlan argued for the lighter sentence, begging jurors to consider her client's prior life and years of good military service and suggested he snapped under the weight of his fourth combat deployment. She read from a letter Bales sent to his two children 10 weeks before the killing: "The children here are a lot like you. They like to eat candy and play soccer. They all know me because I juggle rocks for them."

"These aren't the words of a cold-blooded murderer," Scanlan said.

She also read from a letter sent by a fellow soldier, a captain who said that Bales seemed to have trouble handling a decade of war and death: "The darkness that had been tugging at him for the last 10 years swallowed him whole."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Afghan villagers wait to head to a news conference after a sentencing hearing for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. Bales, who massacred 16 Afghan civilians in 2012 in one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, was sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

  


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