National News

August 23, 2013

Villagers unsatisfied by life sentence for Bales

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — The U.S. soldier who massacred 16 Afghan civilians last year in one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole — the most severe sentence possible, but one that left surviving victims and relatives of the dead deeply unsatisfied.

“We wanted this murderer to be executed,” said Hajji Mohammad Wazir, who lost 11 family members in the attack by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. “We were brought all the way from Afghanistan to see if justice would be served. Not our way — justice was served the American way.”

Bales, 40, pleaded guilty in June in a deal to avoid the death penalty for his March 11, 2012, raids near his remote outpost in Kandahar province, when he stalked through mud-walled compounds and shot 22 people — 17 of them women and children. Some screamed for mercy, while others didn’t even have a chance to get out of bed.

The only possible sentences were life in prison without parole, or life with the possibility of release after 20 years. The soldier showed no emotion as the six jurors chose the former after deliberating for less than two hours.

His mother, sitting in the front row of the court, bowed her head, rocked in her seat, and wept.

An interpreter flashed a thumbs-up sign to a row of Afghan villagers who were either wounded or lost family members in the March 11, 2012, attacks.

“I saw his mother trying to cry, but at least she can go visit him,” Hajji Mohammad Naim, who was shot in the neck, said after the sentencing. “What about us? Our family members are actually 6 feet under.”

The villagers, who traveled nearly 7,000 miles to testify against Bales, spoke with reporters through an interpreter and asked what it would be like for someone to break into American homes and slaughter their families. A boy of about 13 displayed a scar from a bullet wound to his leg.

They also criticized American involvement in Afghanistan, saying the soldiers came to build their country but have done no such thing.

Bales never offered an explanation for why he armed himself with a 9 mm pistol and an M-4 rifle and left his post on the killing mission, but he apologized on the witness stand Thursday and described the slaughter as an “act of cowardice, behind a mask of fear, bulls--- and bravado.”

The villagers said they hadn’t read or listened to the apology. One, Mullah Baran, called it a “fraud.”

Prosecutors described Bales as a “man of no moral compass.”

“In just a few short hours, Sgt. Bales wiped out generations,” Lt. Col. Jay Morse told the jury in his closing argument. “Sgt. Bales dares to ask you for mercy when he has shown none.”

A commanding general overseeing the court-martial has the option of reducing the sentence to life with the possibility of parole.

Defense attorney Emma Scanlan argued for the lighter sentence, begging jurors to consider her client’s prior life and years of good military service and suggested he snapped under the weight of his fourth combat deployment. She read from a letter Bales sent to his two children 10 weeks before the killing: “The children here are a lot like you. They like to eat candy and play soccer. They all know me because I juggle rocks for them.”

“These aren’t the words of a cold-blooded murderer,” Scanlan said.

She also read from a letter sent by a fellow soldier, a captain who said that Bales seemed to have trouble handling a decade of war and death: “The darkness that had been tugging at him for the last 10 years swallowed him whole.”

Prosecutors laying out the case for a life term, argued that Bales’ own “stomach-churning” words demonstrated that he knew exactly what he was doing.

“My count is 20,” Bales told another soldier when he returned to the base.

Morse displayed a photograph of a girl’s bloodied corpse and described how Bales executed her where she should have felt safest — beside her father, who was also slain.

Morse also played a surveillance video of Bales returning to the base after the killings, marching with “the methodical, confident gait of a man who’s accomplished his mission.”

Bales, an Ohio native who lived in Lake Tapps, Wash., was under personal, financial and professional stress at the time. He had stopped paying the mortgage on one of his houses, was concerned about his wife’s spending and hadn’t received a promotion he wanted.

“Sgt. Bales commits these barbaric acts because he takes stock of his life,” Morse said. “Sgt. Bales thinks the rest of the world is not giving him what he deserves.”

The closing arguments came a day after Bales apologized for the attack, saying he’d bring back the victims “in a heartbeat” if he could.

“I’m truly, truly sorry to those people whose families got taken away,” he said in a mostly steady voice during questions from one of his lawyers. “I can’t comprehend their loss. I think about it every time I look at my kids.”

He said he hoped his words would be translated for the villagers — none of whom elected to be in court to hear him.

———

Follow Gene Johnson at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle.

 

1
Text Only
National News
  • Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout in east

    Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

    April 20, 2014

  • In West Bank, teen offenders face different fates

    The boys were both 15, with the crackly voices and awkward peach fuzz of adolescence. They lived just a few minutes away from one another in the West Bank. And both were accused of throwing stones at vehicles, one day after the other.

    April 20, 2014

  • Study: Fuels from corn waste not better than gas

    Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration’s conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.

    April 20, 2014

  • Fracking foes cringe as unions back drilling boom

    After early complaints that out-of-state firms got the most jobs, some local construction trade workers and union members in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia say they’re now benefiting in a big way from the Marcellus and Utica Shale oil and gas boom.

    April 20, 2014

  • In Colorado, a pot holiday tries to go mainstream

    Once the province of activists and stoners, the traditional pot holiday of April 20 has gone mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 20, 2014

  • ‘Capt. America’ tops box office for third week

    Captain America continues to vanquish box office foes, triumphing in ticket sales for the third consecutive week and dominating over megastar Johnny Depp’s new movie.

    April 20, 2014

  • Probe could complicate Rick Perry’s prospects

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spent a record 14 years in office vanquishing nearly all who dared confront him: political rivals, moms against mandatory vaccines for sixth graders, a coyote in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    April 20, 2014

  • NASA’s space station Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 19, 2014

  • Documents detail another delayed GM recall

    Government documents show that General Motors waited years to recall nearly 335,000 Saturn Ions for power steering failures despite getting thousands of consumer complaints and warranty repair claims.

    April 19, 2014

  • Captain of sunken SKorean ferry, 2 crew arrested

    The captain of the ferry that sank off South Korea, leaving more than 300 missing or dead, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Two crew members also were taken into custody, including a rookie third mate who a prosecutor said was steering in challenging waters unfamiliar to her when the accident occurred.

    April 19, 2014