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Afghans Unhappy U.S. Soldier Not Sentenced To Death

U.S. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales (left) trains at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, in August 2011.
Afghan villagers say they’re unhappy that the U.S. soldier who massacred 16 Afghan civilians did not receive a death sentence.

Survivors of the massacre and relatives of those killed say justice was not achieved in the case of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.

A U.S. military jury sentenced Bales on August 23 to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Villagers who lost family members in the March 2012 night attack by Bales, said justice was served only in what they called the "American way," not the Afghan way.

One man who lost 11 relatives in the slaughter in Kandahar Province told reporters after the sentence was handed down at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state: "We came to the U.S. to get justice. We didn't get that."

The man was among a group of Afghans who had been flown to the United States to testify against Bales.

In June, Bales pleaded guilty to all charges under a deal in which he avoided a death sentence.

Following that agreement, giving Bales a death sentence was not an option for the jury of U.S. military personnel. The jury could only decide whether he should or should not have the possibility of parole.

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

Another Afghan villager, whose family members were killed by Bales, told reporters after the sentencing: "We didn't get justice, as I said earlier. He only got a life sentence without parole. But I'm asking the average Americans right here, if somebody jumps in your house in the middle of the night, kills 11 members of your family and tried to burn them, what sort of punishment would you be passing onto that person?"

Haji Mullah Baran, whose family members were also killed by Bales, said: "If I had a chance to talk to Sergeant Bales, I would ask him directly, right to his face: 'You're a murderer why did you do this? Didn't you ever think of being a human being, because a human being wouldn't do this.'"

Bale Apologizes

The day before his sentencing, Bales for the first time publicly apologized for carrying out the massacre. He described the killings as an "act of cowardice, behind a mask of fear...and bravado."

But Bales offered no further explanation for the bloodshed, saying, "Nothing makes it right." He added, "I don't know why."

Bales, originally from 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 Bales' actions.

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

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.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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