U.S. soldier will be charged with 17 counts of murder

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Staff Sgt. Robert Bales from August 2011 Defense Video at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. (AP Photo/DVIDS, Spc. Ryan Hallock)

WASHINGTON — Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will be charged with 17 counts of murder, assault and a string of other offenses in the massacre of Afghan villagers as they slept, a U.S. official said Thursday.

The charges against Bales include 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault, as well as dereliction of duty and other violations of military law, the official said on condition of anonymity because the charges had not been announced.

The 38-year-old soldier and father of two, who lives in Lake Tapps, Wash., will be charged with a shooting rampage in two villages near his southern Afghanistan military post in the early hours of March 11, gunning down nine Afghan children and eight adults and burning some of the victims’ bodies.

The charges are to be read to Bales today at the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas where he has been held since being flown from Afghanistan last week. He faces trial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Military authorities originally had said Bales was suspected in the killing of 16 Afghan villagers, nine children and seven adults.

They changed that Thursday to 17, raising the number of adults by one but without explaining how the change came about. It’s possible some of the dead were buried before U.S. military officials arrived at the scene. Six Afghans were wounded in the attack.

Bales’ attorney, John Henry Browne, said he wouldn’t comment on the charges because he has not been officially provided a copy of what they are.

The killings were yet another blow to U.S.-Afghan relations following a series of missteps, including the mistaken burning of Qurans, which prompted violent protests and revenge killings of American troops in the war zone.

The shooting rampage also prompted renewed debate in the U.S. about health care for the troops, who have experienced record suicide rates and high rates of post-traumatic stress and brain injuries during repeated deployments over a decade of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bales was on his fourth tour of duty, having served three tours in Iraq, where he suffered a head injury and a foot injury. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

Browne has portrayed his client as a patriot, loving father and devoted husband who had been traumatized by a comrade’s injury and sent into combat one too many times.

Army officials have said Bales was cleared for return to duty after the head injury he suffered in Iraq.

Bales joined the Army in 2001 after a Florida investment business failed and after he had worked with a string of securities operations. Bales and a broker at one company were hit in 2003 with a $1.5-million arbitration ruling after an elderly couple charged that their holdings were decimated.

He also was arrested in 2002 for the drunken assault of a casino security guard and had to complete an anger management class. There also are reports of a second incident involving alcohol, although Bales was never formally charged.

A Pierce County Sheriff’s Department report released Thursday says Bales was accused in 2008 in Washington state of shaking hands with a woman, pulling her hand to his crotch and then punching and kicking her boyfriend. It describes Bales as “extremely intoxicated.”

The incident report obtained by the Associated Press quoted a woman saying Bales told her she was beautiful, then “pulled her hand to his crotch” outside a Tacoma, Wash., bowling alley. The deputy described Bales as “extremely intoxicated.”

The report says Bales began punching and kicking the woman’s boyfriend. When the boyfriend raised one leg to stop the kicking, Bales grabbed the leg and pushed him to the pavement.

Each person involved in the incident was drunk, to the point of mumbling and slurring their speech, according to the deputy’s account.

Bales’ attorney declined to discuss the assault accusations.

Credit: The Associated Press.

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