Soldier Accused of Killing Afghan Civilians to Testify

SEATTLE — Staff Sgt. Robert Bales of the Army, who is accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians last year, most of them women and children, is expected to offer on Wednesday his own account of the attack for the first time, under oath, as part of a guilty plea hearing that would remove the threat of the death penalty from his case.

Sergeant Bales, 39, would instead face life in prison if the guilty plea is accepted by the military court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, about an hour south of Seattle, where he was stationed.

The attacks, on two villages in a poor rural region, the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province, were the deadliest war crime attributed to a single American soldier in the decade of war that has followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Villagers testified at a court hearing in November that a figure, cloaked in darkness with blindingly bright lights on his weapon, burst into their homes early on the morning of March 11, 2012, shooting, stabbing and burning bodies. Fellow soldiers told the court in the Article 32 hearing – the military’s version of a grand jury hearing that they had been drinking together earlier that night, against regulations, and that Sgt. Bales had later walked back into the camp, wearing a cape, his clothes spotted with blood.

But Sergeant Bales, who was on his fourth combat deployment in 10 years — three tours in Iraq, and the final one in Afghanistan — never took the witness stand.

About the author: Kirk Johnson is The New York Times Seattle Bureau Chief, covering WA, OR, ID, and AK.

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