Soldier suspected in Afghanistan massacre to huddle with lawyers

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 17, 2012 7:28 PM
Soldier suspected in Afghanistan massacre to huddle with lawyers

By Bill Rigby

TACOMA, Washington (Reuters) - The lawyer representing the U.S. soldier implicated in the massacre of 16 villagers in Afghanistan said on Saturday he and other members of the defense team would spend several days with him in the week ahead.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is in solitary confinement at a military detention center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he arrived late on Friday.

Bales, 38 and a four-tour combat veteran, is suspected of walking off his base in southern Afghanistan on Sunday and gunning down the 16 civilians, including nine children and three women, in a massacre that sent American-Afghan relations into a tailspin.

Bales, whose military unit is based south of Tacoma, Washington, had been held in Kuwait after he was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday. He has not yet been charged.

Bales' civilian attorney, John Henry Browne, said in a statement he was being joined in the defense effort by Emma Scanlan, also a civilian, and a military defense counsel, Major Thomas Hurley.

"Public reports that Sergeant Bales' supervisors, family and friends describe him as a level-headed, experienced soldier are consistent with information gathered by the defense team," Browne's statement said. "It is too early to determine what factors may have played into this incident and the defense team looks forward to reviewing the evidence, examining all of Sergeant Bale's medical and personnel records, and interviewing witnesses."

An unnamed U.S. official had told The New York Times the killings were a result of "a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped."

But Browne has refuted that, saying on CNN that marital problems were "totally bogus." He said his client had a "very strong marriage and, frankly, we're all taking offense at that."

FAMILY MOVED TO BASE

"Sergeant Bales' family is stunned in the face of this tragedy, but they stand behind the man they know as a devoted husband, father and dedicated member of the armed services," Browne's statement on Saturday said.

Bales' wife, Karilyn, and two young children have been moved into military lodging at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside of Tacoma, Browne said earlier in the week.

The couple's house about 45 minutes east of the base is vacant, and had recently been put up for sale, according to local real estate listings.

Bales, who completed a two-year associate college degree in 1992, joined the Army in 2001, the Army said in a statement late on Friday when it formally identified him for the first time since Sunday's incident.

His home of record was listed as Jensen Beach, Florida, although Browne has said Bales grew up in the Midwest.

His military training included education in sniper skills, military leadership and a course called "combat life savers."

The Army statement said Bales had spent a total of 37 months during three deployments in Iraq between 2003 and 2010.

(Writing By Dan Burns; Editing by Xavier Briand)