The preliminary hearing for a US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians is wrapping up this week. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales reportedly killed the villagers, mainly women and children, over two forays and a five-hour period on March 11th of this year. Bales is charged with 16 counts of premeditated murder, six counts of attempted murder, as well as assault charges and wrongful use of steroids and alcohol while deployed.
Witness testimony heard early in the hearings depicted the massacre as a vengeful act. Bales was apparently upset after several days of inaction following an attack on his patrol that had left one soldier seriously injured.
Bales’ defense lawyers are arguing that his judgment may have been impaired by a concussion or post-traumatic stress disorder in conjunction with alcohol or steroid use. However, claims that Bales was suffering from a concussion or post-traumatic stress disorder have been undercut by First Sergeant Vernon Bigham’s testimony that Bales had undergone surgery over the preceding weekend and hadn’t complained of any PTSD, traumatic head injury, or headaches.
Bales’ Kandahar province massacre marks the worst incidence of civilian slaughter blamed on a single US soldier since the war in Vietnam. Additionally, the shootings have further damaged already strained US-Afghan relations. Military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the 39-year-old soldier and father of two.