US soldier to be charged with 17 Afghan murders
Bales could face death penalty if convicted -Leon
US: A US soldier will be charged with 17 counts of murder stemming
from the killings of civilians in a shooting rampage in southern
Afghanistan, a US official said Thursday.
The official, confirming the murder charges on condition of
anonymity, also said Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales would be charged
with six counts of assault and attempted murder.
The massacre is likely the deadliest war crime of the ten-year-old
conflict by a NATO soldier and has further strained already difficult
relations between the United States and Afghanistan.
Bales, 38, allegedly walked out of his base in the southern province
of Kandahar under cover of darkness March 11 and killed 17 people in two
nearby villages, including women and children. He then allegedly burned
some of their bodies, returned to his base and surrendered.
The charges raise by one the number of deaths reported immediately
after the atrocity, which have deepened a sense of crisis in the
NATO-led mission and renewed questions about the effect of protracted
ground wars on America's stretched force.
The killings came at an already tense time for US-Afghan ties after
the inadvertent burning of Korans by American soldiers triggered deadly
anti-US protests, “insider” attacks on NATO troops by Afghan forces and
an earlier video that showed US Marines urinating on the bloodied
corpses of Taliban militants.
US officials have pledged to hold the gunman to account, and Defense
Secretary Leon Panetta has said Bales could face the death penalty if
convicted. The soldier's motives remain unknown and investigators are
examining if alcohol played a role in the killings.
Initially transferred to a US base in Kuwait, Bales is now at the
Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas, where he is being held in a
The charges are due to be officially announced Friday, sources close
to the investigation said.Under the US military justice system,
prosecutors draft charges to be filed against an accused soldier, then
present them to his unit commander, who must then decide whether there
is enough evidence to believe a crime was committed.Bales is then due to
appear for an Article 32 preliminary hearing at a still unknown date,
when authorities will decide whether to go ahead with a court-martial.
The soldier's lawyer, John Henry Browne, visited his client for the
first time on Monday and Tuesday and told reporters that Bales suffered
from amnesia. AFP