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US Soldier Given Life Without Parole for Afghan Killings

A U.S. soldier looks on as Afghan villagers, some of whom testified earlier in the week, speak through an interpreter with reporters, following a sentencing hearing for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Aug. 23, 2013.
An American soldier convicted of killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales had admitted to the killings in a plea bargain that spared him the death penalty.

Bales listened to testimony this week from some of the Afghan survivors and family members of victims, as military prosecutors described the cold-blooded killings in two Afghan villages in March, 2012. Most of his victims were women and children, including 11 members of one family. Haji Muhammad Wazir lost six of his seven children and his wife and mother. He and eight other men and boys were flown to
Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State for the sentencing hearing.

Prosecutors said that Bales, armed with an assault rifle and pistol, acted alone and that the murders were premeditated. Defense lawyers have said Bales suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome from the pressures of four deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that he was dependent on alcohol and drugs. His attorneys did not call on mental health experts, however, as they had planned, and civilian lawyer John Henry Browne told reporters that a battle of experts would not help their client’s case.

Thursday, Bales apologized for the killings to the families of the victims and his fellow soldiers, and he called the murders an act of cowardice. It was his first public apology. Army officials say the Afghans who testified at the hearing declined to attend that day. A jury of six military service members, who were empaneled this week to determine the sentence, deliberated for less than two hours before announcing a decision, life in prison without parole.

Bales, who is a Washington State resident, is 40 years old and the father of two children. Friends and former associates who appeared as character witnesses said they were stunned to learn of the charges.

Many Afghans have expressed anger that Bales was spared the death penalty and that he was tried in the United States and not Afghanistan. He was prosecuted under the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice.