US military prosecutors on Tuesday urged the death penalty for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales [JURIST news archive] who is accused of having murdered 16 Afghan civilians in a late-night rampage in March. After a week long investigatory hearing [JURIST report] under Article 32 [text], prosecutor Maj. Rob Stelle urged the presiding officer to subject Bales to a military court-martial where prosecutors will seek the death penalty. During the pre-trial hearing the court heard [LAT report] video testimony from witnesses to the attack who recounted stories of numerous shootings, stabbings and the immolation of still-living victims. Testimony was also given by other US soldiers who recounted drinking contraband whiskey and watching a Denzel Washington film about a man who goes on a retributive killing spree before Bales left the base in the middle of the night. At the conclusion of the pre-trial hearing prosecutor Stelle said the death penalty should be pursued because of the brutal nature of the act. Bales' civilian defense attorney, Lance Rosen, has challenged the assertions made in the hearing claiming that only one side of the story has been heard and suggesting that Bales' mental state might be at issue given that his toxicology report showed he had alcohol, steroids and sleeping aids in his system and that Bales may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The officer presiding over the hearing, Col. Lee Deneke, said he will submit a written opinion by Friday.
Bales is not the first US soldier prosecuted in relation to deaths of civilians in Afghanistan. In February the US Army dropped charges [JURIST report] against Army Specialist Michael Wagnon, the last of five soldiers to be charged in connection with the killing of three Afghan civilians. In November US Sgt. Calvin Gibbs was convicted on 15 charges [JURIST report] of murder, assault, and conspiracy in the same case. Before Gibbs was convicted, in March of last year, Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock admitted to three counts of murder [JURIST report] as part of a plot with other soldiers to kill Afghan civilians.