A horrible reminder of the violence in the Afghanistan War may be coming to a close. Staff Sargent Robert Bales is expected to plead guilty to the massacre of 16 Afghan civilian villagers, one of the worst atrocities committed by American forces during the occupation of the country.
Bales will recount what happened on that night of March 11, 2012 where he allegedly armed himself and left his base to commit the atrocities. Bales’ full confession and guilty plea are being seen as an attempt to avoid the death penalty, which prosecutors have said is an option in this case.
The attack occurred on March 11 in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. The Army alleges Bales, acting alone, armed himself with a pistol, rifle, and grenade launcher and left the base.
He then allegedly proceeded to kill 16 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children. Nine of the victims were children and 11 were from the same family. Last fall, testimony was heard that established that Bales returned to the base in a pause during the slaughter. He woke a fellow soldier up and confessed to what he was doing. The soldier did not believe him and went back to sleep. Bales left the base to continue the killing.
It has been called the worst civilian massacre blamed on a rogue soldier since Vietnam.
The defense is attempting to argue that Bales has circumstances that should exempt him from the death penalty. Bales was on his fourth tour of duty and the defense team is attempting to argue that Bales was "crazed" and "broken" while he was committing the killings.
The defense plans to claim that during Bales’s time at the base before the massacre, he was given steroid drugs and alcohol by special operations troops. Defense attorney John Henry Browne for Bales claims he was "pumped" full of steroids. He was also drinking alcohol and snorting Valium that had provided to him by another solider.
Browne is also expected to make arguments about Bales’s mental state. Bales was sent to a fourth combat tour despite evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury suffered during a previous tour of duty during the occupation of Iraq.
"We broke him. He never should have been there," Browne said on Thursday to CNN. This is a continuation of the legal strategy that Browne used since last year. Last year he said,
"We think the Army is attempting to escape responsibility for the decision to send Sgt. Bales to Afghanistan for his fourth deployment, knowing that he had (post-traumatic stress disorder) and a concussive head injury. I think that the person who made the decision to send Sgt. Bales to the most dangerous area in Afghanistan in a small outpost is responsible for Sgt. Bales being in Afghanistan, and he should have never been there."
The American military has not executed anyone since 1961. But the military has not historically accepted the sole explanation of combat stress for crimes committed by service members.
The outcry protests that resulted from Afghan population were so severe that the American military had to temporarily suspend combat operations in the country. Upon hearing news of the possibility plea deal tempers were inflamed in Afghanistan.
"This is a shameful act by the Americans. They promised us the death penalty, and now they are going back on their word," said Baraan Nooria to the Guardian, whose brother perished in the killings.
Ahmad Zia Syamak, a spokesperson for Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the press, “He committed a mass killing crime, and we would like the court in the United States to implement justice and punish him according to the crime.”
Both a commanding general and Army Colonel Jeffery Nance, the presiding judge, must accept any plea deal that the prosecution and defense agree to. A plea deal could inflame tension in Afghanistan. Said Jan told the Associated Press, "A prison sentence doesn't mean anything. I know we have no power now. But I will become stronger, and if he does not hang, I will have my revenge."
During the massacre Jan’s and three other relatives were killed. Several other members of Jan’s family were wounded, including his 7-year-old granddaughter, who was shot in the head.