A US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers is due in court Monday for the first time since the March massacre, in a pre-trial hearing to decide if he should face a full court martial.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is expected to attend throughout the Nov 5-16 Article 32 hearing at Fort Lewis-McChord in the western state of Washington, base spokesman Gary Dangerfield told AFP.
Relatives of the victims and witnesses could testify via videolink from a US air base in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, according to media reports, although the spokesman could not confirm that.
Bales, 39, is accused of leaving his base in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province on the night of March 11 to commit the killings, which included nine children. He allegedly set several of their bodies on fire.
The killings are thought to be the deadliest crime by a US soldier during the decade-long conflict and tested Washington and Kabul’s already tense relationship to the limit.
Bales was transferred from Afghanistan back to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas shortly after the massacre, before being moved back to Fort Lewis-McChord recently, home base of the US 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment.
His wife and two children were moved to the sprawling military base south of Seattle for their own security, and to shield them from the glare of the media in the wake of the killings.
Bales killed in 2 stages – investigators
The U.S. Army sergeant accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians, killed his victims in two stages, according to U.S. investigators. On Saturday, U.S. officials told reporters that 38-year-old Robert Bales is likely to have left the base on two occasions alternately going to two villages.
At the same time, investigators can not say why he returned to the base. The sergeant was arrested when he returned the second time.
As proof of their version, the lead investigators cited evidence and statements given by Afghan soldiers who were on duty that night near the military base. One of them saw the U.S. soldier enter the territory of the base at about 01:30 AM. His successor said that an American soldier left at 02:30. However, there is no evidence that the guards saw the same man.
Taliban doubts that Sgt Bales will be tried fairly
The Afghan Taliban movement does not believe that the US Staff Sergeant Robert Bales will be tried fairly for murdering Afghan civilians. This comes in an article by The Jerusalem Post Israeli periodical with reference to a spokesman for Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid.
According to him, an entire group of US servicemen took part in the killing of Afghan civilians in the Kandahar Province on the night of March 10th, although Washington is attempting to put the blame on just one soldier.
The Afghan commission to investigate the incident has also reached the conclusion that more than one person was involved in the massacre. The US has said that Staff Sergeant Robert Bales will be charged with killing 17 people. He was taken from Afghanistan to the United States despite protests from rank and file Afghans and Kabul officials.