The US soldier who massacred 16 Afghan civilians during pre-dawn raids last year apologized for the first time for his “act of cowardice,” but could not explain the atrocities to a military jury considering whether he should one day have a chance at freedom.
US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales said he would bring back the victims of his attack on March 11 last year, “in a heartbeat,” if possible.
“I’m truly, truly sorry to those people whose families got taken away,” he said in a mostly steady voice. “I can’t comprehend their loss. I think about it every time I look at my kids.”
Bales, 40, did not recount specifics of the horrors, but described the killings as an “act of cowardice, behind a mask of fear, bullshit and bravado.”
He said he hoped his words would be translated for the nine villagers who traveled from Afghanistan to testify against him — none of whom elected to be in court to hear his words.
The father of two from Washington State was serving his fourth combat deployment when he left his outpost at Camp Belambay, Kandahar Province, in the middle of the night to attack two villages, exhibiting an unimaginable brutality as he slaughtered men, women and children screaming for mercy.
The massacre prompted such angry protests that the US temporarily halted combat operations, and it was three weeks before army investigators could reach the crime scene.
Bales pleaded guilty in June, and the six-member jury is deciding whether his life sentence should include the chance of parole.
His attorneys previously made much of Bales’ repeated deployments and suggested that post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury may have played a role in the killings.
However, they offered no testimony from psychiatrists or other doctors, saying they saw little point in making the case a battle of the experts.
Instead, they rested their defense after Bales finished speaking on Thursday.
Closing arguments were scheduled for yesterday morning.
The defense followed two days of testimony from nine Afghans, who spoke of their lives since the attacks.
Haji Mohammad Wazir lost 11 family members, including his mother, wife and six of his seven children. He told the six-member jury that the attacks destroyed what had been a happy life.
He was in another village with his youngest son, now five-year-old Habib Shah, during the attack.
“If someone loses one child, you can imagine how devastated their life would be,” said Wazir, who received US$550,000 in condolence payments from the US government, out of US$980,000 paid in all. “If anybody speaks to me about the incident ... I feel the same, like it’s happening right now.”