An Army prosecutor Tuesday requested that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales face a death penalty court-martial, alleging that the Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier has committed “the worst, most despicable crimes a human can commit, murdering children in their own homes.”
“Terrible, terrible things happened. That is clear. The second thing that is clear, sir, is that Staff Sgt. Bales did it,” said Army prosecutor Maj. Robert Stelle in closing arguments at a preliminary hearing into charges that Bales killed 16 Afghan civilians, most of them children and women, and wounded six people.
Stelle addressed an Army investigating officer who will recommend how the biggest U.S. war crimes case to emerge from the Afghanistan war will proceed.
Stelle portrayed Bales, in the aftermath of the March 11 killings, as someone with a clear memory of what he had done and “conscious of wrong doing.”
Defense attorney Emma Scanlon, in her closing argument, asked that the investigating officer recommend against making this a death penalty case.
She portrayed Bales as a troubled infantry soldier split off from his commanding officers to serve at a Special Forces outpost, where he was given steroids and sleep medications and drank liquor before the predawn killings. “We have a dysfunctional and drinking and drugging ODA (Special Forces) team. We can’t isolate Sgt. Bales in a bubble,” she said. “That’s not what happened here.”
Scanlon noted Bales’ erratic behavior in the hours before the killing, as he entered the quarters of a Special Forces soldier and woke him up to talk about family and other problems. Scanlon also recounted how Bales was wearing a cape when he was apprehended by other soldiers as he returned to base.
This was part of a broader attack by the defense counsel on the prosecution’s assertion that Bales has been fully conscious of his actions when he was taken into custody on March 11. “Why in the world is someone so lucid wearing a cape?” Scanlon said.
Scanlon also noted that one of the survivors had told investigators that two soldiers took part in killing her husband, raising the possibility that more than one soldier might have been involved in the events.
In her closing arguments, she also sought to raise questions about the care Bales received at Madigan Army Medical Center for a concussive head injury. She indicated that a clinic there didn’t track him and make sure that he came to his next appointment.
The hearings began Nov. 5 and included testimony from more than two dozen witnesses, including Army criminal investigators, Special Forces and infantry soldiers and Afghan civilians.
Col. William L. Deneke, the Army investigating officer, is expected to make a recommendation within the next week about the case. Another Army officer, known as the convening authority, will then make a decision on how to proceed.
If a court-martial takes place, it will be held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the Washington state base south of Seattle, and witnesses will be flown in from Afghanistan.
After the hearing ended, the Bales family released a statement.
“Much of the testimony was painful, even heartbreaking, but we are not convinced that the government has shown us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what happened that night,” the statement said. “As a family we all grieve deeply for the Afghani families who lost their loved ones on March 11, but we must not rush to judgment.”