Brit Felsen-Parsons ’12
Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder for his alleged shooting spree in Afghan villages. If convicted, Bales could face the death penalty.
Authorities report that Bales left his outpost in Kandahar province on March 11th and went from house to house shooting villagers. In addition to the 17 fatalities, six people were wounded in the attack: four children, one man, and one woman. Two have since been released from hospital, according to a Kandahar provincial government spokesman.
If convicted of even one of the 17 murder charges, Bales would face a lifetime imprisonment sentence with the possibility of parole at the minimum.
The Taliban has vowed “strong revenge” for the attack and believes that “tens of American soldiers, and not one person” are responsible for the attack: “We will take practical revenge on every single American soldier.”
Bales is currently being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Bales’ case could go either to an Article 32 hearing—a combination preliminary hearing and grand jury session—or Bales could go before a panel of mental health analysts to determine his mental state at the time of the attack, and also if he is competent to stand trial.
If and when the trial takes place, prosecutors will have their work cut out for them—seeing as, in accordance with Islamic tradition, the bodies were buried quickly and no autopsies were performed, and the difficulty of getting witnesses to testify.
Bales attorney has stated that his client has memory loss about the incident. Documents show that he had previously had a concussive head injury that went untreated. Defense attorneys believe that even if prosecutors won a death sentence, it could be years or even decades before Bales is executed.
The overwhelming response of fellow American soldiers to Bales’ actions is summed up in the words of former Army captain Michael Breen: “Sergeant Bales has been through a lot as a soldier. Many of us have. That is certainly no explanation or excuse for the gross violation of his code of honor, to say the least, and the horrific crimes that he committed.”