August 22, 2013

U.S. soldier apologizes for Afghan massacre 


Staff Sgt. Robert Bales slaughtered 16 Afghan civilians in their village, mostly women and children.

The Associated Press

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In this courtroom sketch, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales appears before Judge Col. Jeffery Nance in a courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., on Tuesday during a sentencing hearing in the slayings of 16 Afghan civilians.

The Associated Press

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Bales' lawyers tried to paint a sympathetic picture of the soldier to contrast his own admissions and the testimony of angry Afghan villagers about the horror he wrought.

Former pro football player Marc Edwards testified Thursday as a character witness, telling jurors he remembered Bales as a great leader from their high school days in Norwood, Ohio.

Wearing the Super Bowl ring he won with the New England Patriots in 2002, Edwards said the slightly older Bales "took me under his wing" and was magnanimous when Edwards took his position at starting linebacker.

The jurors on Thursday also heard from two soldiers who served with Bales in Iraq. One described how they sometimes had to collect the bodies of casualties, and how Bales helped carry civilians wounded and killed at the Battle of Zarqa in 2007.

Another soldier, Maj. Brent Clemmer, said it was unfathomable to learn that the competent, positive soldier he knew could have committed the killings.

"I walked myself into my office, poured myself a glass of scotch, and cried," he said.

The defense followed two days of testimony from nine Afghans, who spoke of their lives since the attacks.

Haji Mohammad Wazir lost 11 family members, including his mother, wife and six of his seven children. He told the six-member jury that the attacks destroyed what had been a happy life. He was in another village with his youngest son, now 5-year-old Habib Shah, during the attack.

"If someone loses one child, you can imagine how devastated their life would be," said Wazir, who received $550,000 in condolence payments from the U.S. government, out of $980,000 paid in all. "If anybody speaks to me about the incident ... I feel the same, like it's happening right now."

The massacre prompted such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations, and it was three weeks before Army investigators could reach the crime scene.

If Bales is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, he would be eligible in 20 years, but there's no guarantee he would receive it. He will receive life with parole unless at least five of the six jurors say otherwise.

 

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