An American soldier pleaded guilty to the killing of 16 Afghan civilians last year in one of the worst atrocities of the war in Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales pleaded guilty to multiple counts of murder at the hearing conducted at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle. The plea was made in an effort to avoid the death penalty.
Bales sat at a defense table and described the shooting of each victim as he read from a statement. “This act was without legal justification, sir,” he told the military judge.
He said he left the base where he was stationed in southern Afghanistan at night and went to nearby villages of mud-walled compounds. Once inside, he said he “formed the intent” of killing the victims, then proceeded to shoot each one.
The judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, asked Bales why he committed the March 2012 murders at the two villages.
Bales responded: “Sir, as far as why — I’ve ask that question a million times since then. There’s not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did.”
Most of the victims were women and children, and relatives have told The Associated Press they are irate at the possibility Bales will escape the death penalty for the crimes.
Wednesday’s hearing gave Bale’s account for the first time, but survivors of the ordeal had testified by video link from Afghanistan at a hearing last fall.
According to reports, a young girl described hiding behind her father as he was shot to death. Boys told of hiding behind curtains as others scrambled and begged the soldier to spare them, yelling: “We are children! We are children!”
Prosecutors say that in the pre-dawn hours of March 11, 2012 Bales slipped out of Camp Belambay in Kandahar Province armed with a 9 mm pistol and M-4 rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher.
He first attacked the village of Alkozai, returned to his base, and then left again to attack the second village of Najiban.
His lawyers say that Bales, a 39-year-old Ohio native, suffered from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury, and had been drinking contraband alcohol and snorting Valium the night of the killings. (Image/AP)