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Updated: March 23, 2012 23:09 IST

U.S. soldier to be charged on 17 counts

New York Times News Service
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In connection with shooting Afghan civilians to death

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales will be charged later on Friday with 17 counts of murder and various other charges, including attempted murder, in connection with the March 11 shooting deaths of Afghan civilians, said a senior U.S. official on Thursday.

Bales, who is 38 and had been serving his fourth combat tour overseas, is expected to be charged in a military courtroom at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is being held.

He is accused of walking away from his remote base in southern Afghanistan and killing 16 civilians in a night-time attack. At least nine victims were children and some others were women. Several sources said 16 people were killed, though some also said the number could be higher. The Army has not suggested a motive publicly.

A lawyer for the soldier, John Henry Browne, said this week Bales did not remember some events at the time of the shooting. Mr. Browne has also said the sergeant's behaviour could be affected by post-traumatic stress disorder or from a concussion he suffered during a vehicle rollover in Iraq in a previous deployment.

“There's definitely brain injury, no question about it,” said Mr. Browne.

Mr. Browne said on Thursday he expected the charges.

‘Hard case'

“I'm not persuaded by many facts,” he said. “There's no crime scene. There's no DNA. There's no confession, although they're leaking something, which I don't believe until I see it. This is going to be a hard case for the government to prove. And my client can't help me a lot with some of the things because he has mental problems and I believe they're totally legitimate.”

The shooting, most likely the deadliest war crime by a single U.S. soldier in the decade of war that has followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has further frayed the relationship between the U.S. and Afghan governments. Earlier this year U.S. military personnel burned Korans at an Afghan base, an act that prompted public protests and a series of killings.

General John R. Allen, a Marine four-star general who commands the U.S.-led allied forces in Afghanistan, told Congress this week that there would be an administrative investigation into the headquarters organisation and the command of the soldier's unit.

Bales' legal proceedings could last years. He next faces an Article 32 hearing, in which the Army formally decides whether to press charges. If he is charged in an Article 32 hearing, he likely would face court-martial. — New York Times News Service

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