Conflict & Justice

Robert Bales pleads guilty to massacre of Afghan civilians, avoiding death penalty



A man identified as Robert Bales appears in this Defense Department photograph published in High Desert Warrior, a publication at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin in California.

Robert Bales pled guilty Wednesday to a massacre in Afghanistan last March that killed 16 civilians in two villages, thereby avoiding the death penalty in a plea deal with prosecutors.

The Army staff sergeant entered his plea at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle, The Associated Press reported.

He pled guilty to 16 charges of premeditated murder as well as charges of attempted murder and assault.

His lawyer, Emma Scanlan, entered the pleas on his behalf. He pled not guilty to one count of impeding an investigation by breaking his laptop after the attacks.

Surrounded by a small group of family and supporters, when asked by the judge if he understood the consequences of his plea, he replied, “Yes, sir, I do.”

Among the victims were women and nine children, including 11 members of one family, KIRO TV in Seattle reported.

Bales is expected to reveal details about the massacre, which eroded American influence in Afghanistan and sparked protests.

Col. Jeffery Nance, the judge in the case, will question Bales before accepting the plea arrangement.

The 39-year-old father of two from Ohio will return to court in September for sentencing. It’s then he will learn if he serves life in prison with, or without, the chance of parole.

More from GlobalPost: The lessons of Sgt. Robert Bales

According to reports shortly after the killing spree, Bales twice slipped away from his compound in the province of Kandahar during a night of drinking and snorting Valium; he’d also reportedly been taking steroids, all contraband.

His defense team, including prominent Seattle lawyer John Henry Browne, said the case should highlight how American soldiers are deployed.

Bales is said to have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury, but was on his fourth combat mission between Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brown said his client was “broken” by the time of the massacre, but a psychiatric evaluation found he wasn’t insane.

“His mental state does not rise to the level of a legal insanity defense, but his state of mind will be very important at the trial in September,” Browne told USA Today. “We’ll talk about his mental capacities or lack thereof, and other factors that were important to his state of mind.”

Afghans who lost family in the killings told BBC earlier they wouldn’t accept a life sentence for Bales.

“We will not be satisfied unless he is executed,” said Haji Abdul Baqi.

“If they don’t execute him, they are showing their power. He martyred 16 of our people, but they are not executing the one person who did all that. Would they forgive us if we killed 16 Americans?”

More from GlobalPost: Afghanistan’s Zhari district struggles to keep the peace (PHOTOS)