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Court Cases

US soldier Bales pleads guilty in Afghanistan murders

A US soldier has pleaded guilty to killing 16 Afghan civilians last year. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has sought to avoid the death sentence but faces life in prison if his plea is accepted.

Bales' lawyer Emma Scanlan entered guilty pleas on Wednesday to all but one charges against him, including six of attempted murder and seven of assault, in a packed military courtroom at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a US base south of Seattle in Washington state.

Bales, 39, was charged with 16 counts of murder for the March 2012 nighttime attacks on two villages in southern Afghanistan. Most of the victims were women and children.

When asked by judge Colonel Jeffery Nance if he understood his guilty plea was final, Bales responded "Yes, sir."

Scanlan also entered one not guilty plea on Bales' behalf to a charge that he impeded the investigation by damaging his laptop after being taken into custody.

Avoiding death penalty

Another defense lawyer John Browne had said last week that Bales would admit his guilt in exchange for the prosecutors not seeking his execution. A military judge must decide whether to accept his plea.

A sentencing trial is due to take place August 19. Bales has requested a 12-member jury with one-third consisting of enlisted officers.

Bales allegedly committed the murders the night of March 11, 2012 after leaving his base in the Panjwayi district of southern Kandahar province. Nine of those murdered were children. Bale allegedly shot most of his victims in the head and some of the bodies were burned.

Browne said he expects Bales to admit to "very specific facts" about the killings. 

Details of the murders

Prosecutors called the acts "heinous and despicable."

Bales allegedly left Camp Belambay the night of the killings armed with a 9 mm pistol and an M-4 rifle equipped with a grenade launcher. He first attacked the village of Alkozai before returning to the base, waking up a fellow soldier and telling him what he had done.

The soldier did not believe him and went back to sleep, at which point Bale left the base a second time and attacked the village of Najiban.

Defense attorneys have argued Bale was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury even before his deployment to Afghanistan.

The nine-day so-called Article 32 pre-trial hearing included three evening sessions where victims and relatives testified via video link from Afghanistan.

dr/ipj  (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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