Robert Bales, the U.S. Army staff sergeant suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians, is “confused” and doesn’t recall some details of the alleged assault, the soldier’s attorney said.
“He doesn’t remember everything about the events in questions,” Seattle lawyer John Henry Browne said after meeting Bales on Monday at the Fort Leavenworth, Kan., prison where he is being held. “That doesn’t mean he has amnesia.”
Browne made the comments to several reporters waiting outside his hotel in Lansing, Kan. Earlier in the day, the attorney said U.S. military charges against Bales may bring a review of U.S. strategy in the Mideast conflict and its effect on soldiers.
“People ask if we are going to put the war on trial,” Browne said. “The war is on trial. I don’t know why we are in Afghanistan.”
Browne met with Bales at the prison on Monday and said he expects to return on Tuesday. He said the Army is likely to file charges on March 22 against Bales, 38, for the killings in two villages. Women and children were among the victims in the March 11 shootings that exacerbated tensions between the U.S. and Afghanistan and threaten to undermine support for President Barack Obama’s plans to keep troops there until 2014.
Browne, 65, who has defended clients in multiple-homicide cases, said he opposes the war and asked, “How would you like to be the mother or father of the last soldier killed in Afghanistan?”
Browne said Bales didn’t confess to the crime, CBS News reported. Browne intends to seek a defense of “diminished capacity” rather than insanity, according to the network.
Although the Army is providing Browne extensive access to Bales, the attorney said, “I know the military is not happy with having a private lawyer involved.”
Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on Browne’s remarks about the timing of charges in the case except to say, “Look to Kabul for release of the charges,” a reference to the U.S. Army’s operations there. Kirby said Bales also has been assigned military counsel.
Karilyn Bales, wife of the accused soldier, said in a statement on Monday that what happened in the Afghan villages “was a terrible and heartbreaking tragedy.”
“What has been reported is completely out of character of the man I know and admire,” she said. “Please respect me when I say I cannot shed any light on what happened that night, so please do not ask. I too want to know what happened.”
The stress of a fourth combat deployment, a troubled marriage, and alcohol use may have combined to provoke the killings, a U.S. official briefed on the investigation of Bales has said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Browne disputed that account.
“Everyone has had issues in their lives,” he said in the interview with reporters. “Some people do six or seven tours, but the question is whether the last tour was too much for someone with a concussive brain injury.”
Bales had a brain injury and lost part of a foot during three tours of duty in Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan in December. Bales told Browne he “had a couple of sips of something but he didn’t have a full drink,” according to the CBS News report.
Browne, the former chief trial lawyer in the King County Office of the Public Defender, has represented clients including serial killer Ted Bundy and mass murderer Benjamin Ng.
Browne said Bales’s situation most closely compares with Ng, who was convicted in the killing of 13 people in Seattle in 1983. Ng was spared a death sentence.
“I’m still surprised by that case,” Browne said.
Bales is being held in a medium-security facility in his own cell. He spent the weekend in the military prison under the same routine as other pretrial detainees — usually about a dozen — at the medium-security prison, Fort Leavenworth spokeswoman Rebecca Steed said in an interview.
Lights are turned on at 5 a.m., and prisoners are escorted to a dining hall for meals at 5:15 a.m., 11:20 a.m. and 3:51 p.m., according to a fact sheet provided by the prison. Outdoor activity, including soccer, basketball and track is restricted to 2 to 3 p.m., according to the report. The lights-out time is 10:05 p.m.
Bales is off that schedule until midweek as he meets with his lawyers, Steed said.
“For personnel inside the facility, it’s business as usual,” she said.
Prisoners can provide a list of requested visitors, and authorities vet them, Steed said.
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