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‘I was angry’

Bales will spend life in prison for killings

Soldier tells Afghan survivors ‘I’m sorry’

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:22PM August 29th, 2013

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales will die in prison.

The Joint Base Lewis-McChord NCO who admitted to killing 16 Afghan civilians last year while deployed to Village Stability Platform Belambay in Afghanistan was sentenced last week to life in prison without parole.

Defense attorneys had already negotiated the elimination of the death penalty for Bales in a plea bargain in which Bales plead guilty to multiple specifications of murder, but a panel announced Aug. 23 the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division staff sergeant would be granted no opportunity for parole.

Bales took the stand at his sentencing hearing last week in a JBLM courtroom to apologize to the families of those he killed during a night-time massacre in March 2012.

“I hope I could tell them I’m sorry. If I could bring their family members back, I would do it in a heartbeat,” Bales said. “I can’t comprehend their loss. I’m sorry. I’m truly, truly sorry.”

The 40-year-old Ohio native described how his life became hard after a second deployment to Iraq in 2007. Waiting in traffic or washing the dishes enraged him, and he began to drink heavily and take sleeping pills. He shielded his wife from the alcohol abuse by hiding empty bottles or filling them with water.

“I was angry and I didn’t have a reason to be angry,” Bales said. “I didn’t want to be weak. I didn’t tell anyone.”

The deployment involved continuous enemy engagement and a role in the Battle of Zarqa, an all-night battle near Najaf in southern Iraq against an Islamic separatist group whose members fortified a compound and lived with their families in it. A member of Bales’ unit testified about the bloody and horrific scene following the battle in which hundreds of militants were killed. Bales was recommended for a medal for valor, partly for his efforts in evacuating wounded enemy fighters and helping recover their bodies after the action.

After a third deployment, Bales said his anger worsened. He sought help from an Army counselor, but stopped going after a short time because he felt it wasn’t helping. Despite Bales’ claims of post-traumatic stress, the defense did not present witnesses to verify Bales’ PTSD claim.

Nine Afghan villagers made the trip to JBLM to face Bales and describe the night he left his combat outpost and went to two nearby compounds. Haji Wazir Mohammad lost 11 family members including his wife, mother and six of his seven children. He said he hasn’t forgotten any of them.

“I feel the same as if it is happening right now,” Wazir Mohammad said. “My life will never be the same.”

Bales entered his guilty plea in June to avoid the death penalty. Under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, murder carries a mandatory life sentence. Last week, the six-member military jury had only to decide whether Bales would have a chance at parole in 20 years or die in a military prison.

Bales has been demoted to the rank of E-1, forfeited all pay and benefits and was given a dishonorable discharge. He said he still loves the Army and apologized to his fellow Soldiers.

“I stood next to some really good guys and some real heroes,” he said. “I can’t say I’m sorry enough and it doesn’t take away all those people I killed.”