JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) — The soldier accused of killing 16 villagers in a nighttime rampage in Afghanistan returned to his base wearing a cape and with the blood of his victims on his rifle, belt, shirt and pants, a military prosecutor said Monday.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was incredulous when fellow U.S. soldiers drew their weapons on him when he returned to Camp Belambay in southern Afghanistan last March, Lt. Col. Jay Morse, the prosecutor, said as a preliminary hearing opened here.
Sgt. Bales, 39, has been charged with 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder in one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Nine of the victims were children. The hearing will help determine whether the case goes to a court-martial.
Sgt. Bales has not entered a plea. His attorneys have not discussed the evidence in the case but say Sgt. Bales has post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered a concussive head injury during a prior deployment to Iraq.
The father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., Sgt. Bales sat beside one of his civilian lawyers, Emma Scanlan, in green fatigues as an investigating officer read the charges against him and informed him of his rights. Sgt. Bales said, “Sir, yes, sir,” when asked if he understood them.
Col. Morse said Mr. Bales seemed utterly normal in the hours before the March 11 killings. With his colleagues, Sgt. Bales watched the movie “Man on Fire,” a fictional account of a former CIA operative on a revenge rampage.
Just before he left the base, Col. Morse said, Sgt. Bales told a Special Forces soldier that he was unhappy with his family life,and that the troops should have been quicker to retaliate for a roadside bomb attack that claimed one soldier’s leg.
Sgt. Bales is accused of slipping away from the remote outpost with an M-4 rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher to attack the villages of Balandi and Alkozai, in a dangerous district.
American officials have said they believe Sgt. Bales broke the slaughter into two episodes — walking first to one village, returning to the base and slipping away again to carry out the second attack.
The prosecutor said Sgt. Bales returned to the base at one point, telling a colleague about shooting people at a village. The soldier apparently took it as a bad joke and responded, “Quit messing around.”
Prosecutors played for the first time a video captured by a surveillance blimp that showed a caped figure running toward the base, then stopping and dropping his weapons as he’s confronted. There is no audio. Col. Morse said Sgt. Bales was the caped figure.
The hearing is scheduled to run as long as two weeks, and part of it will be held overnight to allow video testimony from witnesses, including an estimated 10 to 15 Afghans, in Afghanistan.