A hearing for the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in March has been set for Nov. 5 at an army base in Washington State, with villagers expected to testify by video from Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is scheduled to appear at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for the pre-trial hearing, which is expected to last two weeks, Lieutenant Colonel Gary Dangerfield said. The second week of the hearing will be held in the evening, so villagers can testify during daylight hours in Afghanistan.
Defense lawyer John Henry Browne plans to fly to Afghanistan to cross-examine the witnesses, while other members of the defense team remain at Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle.
The hearing under Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice will determine whether Bales, of Lake Tapps, faces court-martial.
Bales faces 16 counts of premeditated murder; six counts of attempted murder; seven counts of assault; and one count each of possessing steroids, using steroids, destroying a laptop, burning bodies and using alcohol. He is being held in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Investigators say Bales was armed with a 9mm pistol and M-4 rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher when he walked off his base in southern Afghanistan on March 11 and went on a nighttime killing spree.
Browne told the Seattle Times that more than 10 Afghans could be called as witnesses and it has been difficult to contact some of them. Browne said the hearing is important because it may be his only opportunity to question the witnesses.
Bales could face the death penalty if convicted.
Browne said on Friday that neither the prosecution nor defense has received forensic-evidence reports from Afghanistan.
“The prosecutors told us they haven’t received any of the DNA, any of those reports from the crime lab,” he said. “They tell us we will have them by Oct. 26.”
Browne said there is still a possibility that the November hearing could be delayed, but he was confident that it would likely proceed as scheduled. Browne said he would probably be in Afghanistan for the preliminary hearing, while his co-counsel, Emma Scanlan, would be at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“A lot of those male Afghanistan witnesses literally won’t talk to a woman,” Browne said.
Browne has said his client suffered a traumatic incident during his second tour in Iraq that triggered “tremendous depression.” Browne has also said Bales suffered from persistent headaches and flashbacks of war scenes after his multiple combat tours, and has only a sketchy memory of the night of the shootings.
Bales grew up in suburban Cincinnati where he attended high school, then went to Ohio State University from 1993 to 1996, though he did not graduate.
He joined the army two months after the attacks on the US on Sept. 11, 2001, after a Florida investment business failed and after he worked with a string of securities operations.
Bales deployed three times to Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan with the 3rd Stryker Brigade. He was at a Special Forces outpost at the time of the killings.