A US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers was “lucid” and admitted to the crimes, prosecutors said as he appeared in court for the first time on Monday.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, 39, had been drinking whiskey and watching a violent action movie with comrades, before leaving his base twice to massacre civilians, mostly women and children, in two nearby villages, they said.
His wife and lawyer have claimed that Bales, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, could not remember what he did on the night of March 11 in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar Province, but prosecutors refuted that claim on Monday, at the start of a two-week Article 32 hearing held to determine if he should face a full court-martial over the killings, the worst US military crime in the decade-old war.
“He was lucid, he was coherent, he was responsive,” prosecutor Joseph Morse said at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, adding that Bales had admitted to the crimes, reportedly saying: “It’s bad, really bad.”
Sporting a shaved head and wearing fatigues, Bales answered the judge’s questions in a clear voice, responding: “Sir, yes sir.”
He alternated between sitting forward and slumping against the back of his chair.
Morse said the night began in the room of a fellow soldier, Sergeant Jason McLaughlin, where they drank Jack Daniel’s and Diet Pepsi while watching Man on Fire starring Denzel Washington as a former assassin on a revenge mission.
At some point after leaving McLaughlin’s room, Bale then allegedly entered the room of Sergeant Clayton Blackshear and had a rambling conversation in which he said he was unhappy with his home life.
“He talked about having bad kids, an ugly wife — he basically didn’t care if he made it back home to them,” Blackshear testified.
Bales also expressed frustration that those responsible for an bomb attack the previous week had not been found and brought to justice.
Sometime at about midnight, Bales allegedly left the base, heading south to a nearby village, and visited two houses. At the first, he shot one man, while the others in the house fled across the street to a neighbor’s house.
Bales then entered the second house, killing three more, while injuring six with gunshots to the face, neck, thigh and knees.
Bales is then alleged to have returned to base and conversed with at least one soldier, before leaving once again, this time headed in the opposite direction.
McLaughlin testified that Bales came into his room at about 2am and admitted to shooting up the nearby village. McLaughlin, who did not believe Bales and was annoyed at being woken up, recalled the following exchange:
“I’ll be back at 5. You got me?” Bales said.
“Whatever, Bob,” McLaughlin replied.
“Take care of my kids,” Bales said, grabbing McLaughlin’s hand.
“No Bob, take care of your own kids,” McLaughlin replied.
“No, take care of my kids,” Bales repeated.
“OK Bob,” McLaughlin said.
The second excursion was more deadly — Bales allegedly visited two Afghan dwellings, again killing one person in the first home. In the second home he allegedly murdered 11 people, including women and children. He then gathered the bodies in the center of the room, setting them alight, the prosecutor said.
Bales faces 16 counts of murder, six of attempted murder, seven of assault, two of using drugs and one of drinking alcohol. Seventeen of the 22 victims were women or children, and almost all were shot in the head.