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Defense set to begin in Afghan massacre case

Associated Press Modified: November 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm •  Published: November 6, 2012

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) — Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was largely calm and compliant when he turned himself in following a predawn massacre at two Afghan villages in March, witnesses testified Tuesday. He followed orders, sometimes sat with his head in his hands, and at one point cracked a joke in a failed effort to ease tension.

But he also deliberately mangled his laptop, said two soldiers assigned to accompany him while he gathered his things.

One of them, Sgt. Ross O'Rourke, testified that he removed the laptop from Bales' rucksack after the defendant told him he didn't want to take it with him. O'Rourke said Bales then grabbed the computer and folded the screen back, breaking it.

That didn't prevent investigators from retrieving information from the computer, O'Rourke said. He didn't say, however, what information was collected.

O'Rourke's testimony came on the second day of a preliminary hearing for Bales, 39, a veteran of four combat tours who faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder. The hearing will help determine whether the case goes to a court martial.

On Monday, Cpl. David Godwin testified that Bales asked him to bleach his blood-soaked clothes.

The March 11 attack on the villages of Balandi and Alkozai prompted the U.S. to halt combat operations for days in the face of protests. It was a month before military investigators could reach the crime scenes.

A prosecutor's opening statement and other witness testimony Monday suggested Bales spent the evening before the massacre at his remote outpost of Camp Belambay with fellow soldiers, watching a movie about revenge killings, sharing contraband whiskey from a plastic bottle and discussing an attack that cost one of their friends his leg.

Within hours, a cape-wearing Bales embarked on a killing spree of his own, slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians before returning to the base in predawn darkness, bloody and incredulous that his comrades ordered him to surrender his weapons, said prosecutor Lt. Col. Jay Morse.

"I thought I was doing the right thing," a fellow soldier recalled him saying.

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