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4:33 am
Wed June 5, 2013

Army Sgt. To Plead Guilty In Afghan Village Attack

Originally published on Wed June 5, 2013 6:47 pm

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Today will be a dramatic one at the Lewis-McChord military base in Washington state. That is where Sergeant Robert Bales will stand before an Army judge and confess to killing 16 Afghan villagers in a late-night rampage last year. His confession is part of a plea deal that could save Bales from the death penalty.

NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: At first, they said Bales couldn't remember. Civilian lawyer John Henry Browne described his client's memories of the massacre as hazy, possibly impaired by drugs. But that was last year. Now, faced with a mountain of evidence, Browne says his client has recovered his memories.

JOHN HENRY BROWNE: We would go over some materials with him and he would remember. And then, two weeks later, we'd go over some new materials, and he'd remember something new. So it was a process. It wasn't an event.

KASTE: Bales will need his memory today. Before the court accepts his guilty plea - and the deal to avoid the death penalty - the Army judge is likely to ask Bales detailed questions about that horrific night in March of 2012. Questions about the attacks on two sleeping villages, questions about children shot in the head.

His lawyer says Bales is ready to confess. Browne describes what happened when he brought Bales a recent news article about the massacre.

BROWNE: He took a very long time to read it, and was moved to tears.

KASTE: Browne says this deal is the best Bales could hope for. But he says he also understands that some people in Afghanistan will be outraged to hear that this American soldier will avoid the death penalty.

BROWNE: Bob understands that, and hopes that by telling the truth about everything, it will minimize the sting, basically, and shed light on what happened, at least, for the people of Afghanistan.

KASTE: If the judge accepts this guilty plea, a jury will still have to decide whether to give Bales a life sentence, with or without the possibility of parole. That phase of the court martial may start as soon as August, and the defense lawyers plans to make arguments about mitigating factors.

BROWNE: There's a real question as to whether he should have gone to Afghanistan to begin with. I mean, his fourth deployment. They knew about his PTSD. They knew about his concussive head injury. They sent him to one of the worst places in Afghanistan. You know, we as a country, have to take some responsibility for Bob Bales.

KASTE: But Browne says he wants to leave the why of this massacre for the sentencing phase. Today is about Sergeant Bales taking responsibility for what he did.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.