US soldier to plead guilty to Afghanistan killings

 

The American soldier accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians, most of them women and children, as they slept in villages adjacent to an army outpost in Kandahar province early last year is to plead guilty at a hearing next week in an attempt to stave off the death penalty, his lawyer said.

Henry Browne said his client, Sergeant Robert Bales, was “broken”, “crazed” and on his fourth deployment to Afghanistan when he slipped away from the outpost in the early morning of 11 March 2012 and went on a rampage, shooting and stabbing his slumbering victims. Mr Browne had indicated, however, that Sgt Bales’s state of mind hadn’t been such he could offer an insanity defence.

The killings just outside Camp Belambay in the Panjawi district of Kandahar marked a nadir in US relations with Afghans and is likely to be remembered as the worst atrocity committed by a member of Nato forces serving in the country. It prompted US army prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Sgt Bales. No one has been put to death under the US system of military justice since 1961.

If the plea deal to spare Sgt Bales, 39, from execution is accepted by the military judge, reaction in Afghanistan will be closely monitored. While local anger at the time of the killing was severe, the military was able to maintain the small Belambay outpost where relations with the community may have healed somewhat.

Mr Moore acknowledged that the progress made since then could be put in jeopardy by the putative deal. “It’s a very delicate situation. I am concerned there could be a backlash,” he told the Associated Press. “My personal goal is to save Bob from the death penalty. Getting the public to pay more attention to the war is secondary to what I have to do.”

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