US sergeant for trial over massacre in Afghanistan

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AN AMERICAN soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers has been referred to a court martial and could face the death penalty.

Staff sergeant Robert Bales will face trial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, but no date has been set for the proceedings, military officials said in a statement.

Prosecutors say Bales left his base in southern Afghanistan early on 11 March this year, attacked one village, returned to the base, and then slipped away again to attack another nearby compound. Sixteen people were killed, nine of them children.

Bales’ civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, has said he met with military officials last week to argue that Bales should not face the death penalty, given that he was serving his fourth deployment in a war zone.

Bales’ defence team has said the US government’s case is incomplete and outside experts have said a key issue at any trial will be to determine whether Bales, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

An US army criminal investigations agent has testified that Bales tested positive for steroids three days after the killings, and other soldiers testified that Bales had been drinking on the evening of the massacre.

But prosecutors have pointed to statements Bales made after he was arrested, saying that they demonstrated “a clear memory of what he had done, and consciousness of wrong-doing”.

Several soldiers said Bales returned to the base alone just before dawn, covered in blood, and that he made incriminating statements such as, “I thought I was doing the right thing.”

The killings forced America to halt combat operations in Afghanistan and it was three weeks before US investigators could reach the crime scenes.