Correction 6/6/2013: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Staff Sgt. Bales was from Lake Tapps, Ohio.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the American soldier from Lake Tapps, Wash., charged with killing 16 Afghan civilians during night time raids on two villages last year, pleaded guilty Wednesday to avoid the death penalty. The judge, Col. Jeffery Nance has accepted his plea agreement which takes the option of the death penalty off the table.
It was somber mood in the courtroom at Joint Base Lewis McChord on the first day of the hearing. Bales was dressed in his formal uniform and remained matter-of-fact and composed, as he admitted to killing and then burning some of his 16 victims. His voice broke briefly and he sighed deeply about halfway through, recounting how he left his post to visit the two villages with premeditated intent to kill.
The judge asked Bales what the reason was for killing the 16 Afghans.
“Sir, I’ve asked that question a million times since then and there’s not a good reason in the world for why I did the horrible things I did,” responded Bales.
During the proceedings, Bales also admitted to possessing and using steroids.
The slayings last year drew such angry protests that the US temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan. The next question is how the people of Afghanistan will respond to the plea deal.
Mahmud Karzai, the brother of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, addressed the possibility of a plea deal in an earlier interview with the BBC. “I think if the US judicial system put him in jail for a long time without parole, and he serves long years, maybe for life, I trust that system,” said Karzai. He said that family members of the victims want Bales tried in Afghanistan and put to death.
The US government has an agreement with the Afghan government that military personal will be tried in the United States and not on foreign soil.
Since the trial will be held in America and not in public view of the Afghan people, it will only add to the conspiracy theories said Kate Clark, senior analyst with the Kabul-based Afghan Analysts Network.
Clark said that the Afghan people think that more than one soldier was involved in the murders “There are a lot of rumors and suspicions that this is an even bigger case than it was,” said Clark. “If he gets a jail sentence, people here will believe that he has been let off and that justice hasn’t been served.”
A trial will be held in August to determine whether or not Bales gets life in prison with parole or life in prison without parole.
Kate Clark spoke to Ross Reynolds on The Conversation. Additional reporting for this story from Lisa Brooks.