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U.S. Soldier Gets Life Without Parole For Afghan Massacre

  • RFE/RL

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales and the judge, army Colonel Jeffery Nance (right), are shown in this courtroom sketch during a presentencing hearing in Tacoma, Washington, on August 19.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales and the judge, army Colonel Jeffery Nance (right), are shown in this courtroom sketch during a presentencing hearing in Tacoma, Washington, on August 19.

A U.S. military jury has sentenced a U.S. soldier who massacred 16 Afghan civilians to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The six-member military panel reached a verdict on August 23 after less than two hours of deliberations at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord military base in Washington state.

Bales pleaded guilty in June in a deal that will spare him the death penalty. He apologized in court on August 22 for the massacre, saying the slaughter was an "act of cowardice."

Bales, 39, said he was "truly sorry to those people whose families got taken away" in the March 11, 2012, massacre in Kandahar Province.

The killings inside family compounds in the settlements of Alkozai and Najiban left 22 people killed or injured. Seventeen of the victims were women or children, and almost all were shot in the head.

Eleven of those who were slain were from one family.

Bales had previously not offered a public apology for the slayings.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales in 2011

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales in 2011

The massacre marked the worst case of civilian deaths blamed on a rogue U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War and led to severe strains in the relationship between Afghans and U.S. troops.

U.S. forces briefly halted combat operations in Afghanistan in reaction to Afghan anger over the slaughter.

In his remarks, Bales described the killings as an "act of cowardice, behind a mask of fear...and bravado."

Bales offered no further explanation for the bloodshed, saying: "Nothing makes it right." He added: "I don't know why. Sorry just isn't good enough. I'm sorry."

Bales said he hoped his words of remorse would be translated for Afghans who were flown to the United States to testify against him.

However, none of those Afghans, who spoke to the court this week, decided to attend his speech of apology.

Bales pleaded guilty in June as part of a deal in which he will not be sentenced to death for the killings but will face a life sentence.

In closing arguments earlier on August 23, army prosecutors asked for a life sentence without parole, saying Bales knew what he was doing when he carried out the attack.

A mourner cries over the bodies of Afghan civilians massacred by U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales on March 11, 2012.

A mourner cries over the bodies of Afghan civilians massacred by U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales on March 11, 2012.



Bales, originally from the state of Ohio, is a veteran of four combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a married father of two children.

His attorneys have suggested his repeated deployments, as well as injuries including post-traumatic-stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury, may have played a role in the killings.

Bales has also admitted to drinking alcohol and to taking steroids to improve his physical condition in the weeks and months before the killings.

During the trial, Bales described how he left his base in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar and carried out the massacre using an M4 rifle equipped with a grenade launcher, and a 9-millimeter pistol. He also burned the bodies of victims.

Asked by the judge if he had acted out of self-defense or under orders, or whether he had any legal justification to kill the villagers, Bales replied, "No, sir."

Until the attacks, reports say he had a good, if undistinguished, military record in a decade-long career.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa
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