Testimony: US soldier knew he killed Afghans
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) — Staff Sgt. Robert Bales made a mid-massacre confession, asked for help bleaching his blood-stained clothing and deliberately destroyed his laptop computer, fellow soldiers have testified — statements that prosecutors say show he knew what he was doing the night 16 civilians were slaughtered in two villages in southern Afghanistan.
The remarks, offered by soldiers testifying for the government Monday and Tuesday, could pose a high hurdle for defense lawyers who have indicated that Bales' mental health will be a big part of their case. Testimony continues with several more witnesses Wednesday in a preliminary hearing that is being held to help determine whether the case goes to a court martial.
Bales, a 39-year-old father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder in the March 11 attack on the villages of Balandi and Alkozai, which counted nine children among its victims.
One of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the attack prompted the U.S. to halt combat operations for days in the face of protests, and military investigators couldn't reach the crime scenes for a month.
A prosecutor, Lt. Col. Jay Morse, said Bales spent the evening before the massacre at his remote outpost of Camp Belambay with two other soldiers, watching a movie about revenge killings, sharing contraband whiskey from a plastic bottle and discussing an attack that cost one of their comrades his leg.
Within hours, a cape-wearing Bales slipped away from the post and embarked on a killing spree of his own, said the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Jay Morse. He attacked one village then returned to Belambay, where he woke up a colleague and reported what he'd done, Morse said. The colleague testified that he didn't believe Bales and went back to sleep.
Bales headed out again, Morse said, and attacked the second village before returning once again in the predawn darkness, bloody and incredulous that his comrades ordered him to surrender his weapons.
A medic, Sgt. 1st Class James Stillwell, said Tuesday he saw Bales covered in blood and knew from the pattern of the staining it wasn't his own. He asked where it came from and where he'd been.
Bales shrugged, Stillwell testified.
"If I tell you, you guys will have to testify against me," Stillwell quoted him as saying.
The statement was one of many attributed to Bales that suggest he knew what he was doing, prosecutors say.
Soldiers testified that after being taken into custody, Bales told them, "I thought I was doing the right thing."
"It's bad, it's really bad," he reportedly added.
And Stillwell said Bales told him that the soldiers at Camp Belambay would appreciate his actions once the fighting season ramped up: "You guys are going to thank me come June."
At another point, Bales remarked, "I guess four was too many" — an apparent reference to the number of family compounds in the attacked villages, Morse said Monday.
Bales was largely calm and compliant when he turned himself in following the massacre, several soldiers testified Tuesday. He followed orders and sometimes sat with his head in his hands, as though the magnitude of what he had done was sinking in, one said.