By Joe Lamb (AFP) – Mar 19, 2012
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kansas — The US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers does not remember the incident, his lawyer said Monday, but the Pentagon has announced that he could be charged within days.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales -- who prosecutors say returned to his base and turned himself in after the shooting rampage could face the death penalty if convicted, according to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The 38-year-old trooper's civilian attorney told CBS that the suspect cannot recall much about the deaths, which have plunged US-Afghan relations to a new low and was soon followed by the Taliban breaking off possible peace talks.
"He has an early memory of that evening and he has a later memory... but he doesn't have memory of the evening in between," John Henry Browne told CBS News after meeting Bales for the first time at Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas.
Bales, a decorated veteran who did three tours in Iraq before deploying to Afghanistan in December, is accused of leaving his base in Kandahar province on the night of March 11 and going house to house to kill the villagers, including nine children.
He also allegedly set fire to several of his victims.
A US Army official told AFP that charges in relation to the killing will likely be announced by the American military in Afghanistan "within the next few days."
Under the US military justice system, prosecutors draft charges to be filed against an accused soldier, then present them to his unit commander, who must then decide whether there is enough evidence to believe a crime was committed.
Bales was sent to a military base in Kuwait in the wake of the killings but was then transferred to Fort Leavenworth, where he is being kept in an isolation cell, according to military officials.
Browne, who spoke with Bales for several hours, told CBS his client would not put forward an insanity defense in any proceedings, but could pursue the case on the grounds of "diminished capacity" due to an emotional breakdown.
"He's fixated on the troops left on the ground and what they're accusing him of and how that might have negative ramifications on his friends and compatriots," Browne said, describing Bales as being in shock.
"And he's concerned that there would be retaliation that would be caused by what people think he's done."
Bales also denied reports that he was drunk at the time of the attacks, according to Browne.
"He said he had a couple sips of something but he didn't have a full drink," the lawyer said, adding that Bales is anxious to speak with his family.
Browne said last week that Bales had recently been under stress, which was heightened when he witnessed a fellow soldier seriously wounded by stepping on a mine.
The US media reported that Bales, who in addition to Browne also has a military lawyer, and his wife were enduring financial problems.
The non-commissioned officer joined the army two months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on a fourth hijacked airliner that crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
"He will be treated exactly the same as anybody else at the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility," Fort Leavenworth public information officer Jeff Wingo told AFP. "He's considered innocent until proven guilty."
Before trial, Bales must appear at an "Article 32" -- a preliminary hearing at which prosecutors argue for a court-martial.
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